100 Indians Under Siege by Armed Cattle Ranchers in Brazil

According to Amnesty International, a group of around 100 Guarani Indians reportedly occupied a portion of a ranch situated on historically indigenous territory known as Sombrerito in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, in the morning of June 26.

Cattle ranchers shot one Indian man dead and injured four others, but the group of 100 Indians are still occupying the land. They have been surrounded by armed cattle ranchers, and have no way to escape: their lives are in grave danger.


The body of the dead man, Dorival Benites, has been taken to the nearby Guarani territory of Porto Lindo, and the four injured people have been hospitalized in Iguatemi.


The Guarani are divided into the Kaiowá and the Nhandeva: the group occupying the Sombrerito land are drawn from both communities.


A group of Guarani Indians from the Porto Lindo community is blockading the main road between the towns of Iguatemi and Japorã.


They reportedly intend to maintain the blockade until the Sombrerito indigenous community are able to stay on their land without fear of eviction.


The Guarani had lived in the 15,000 ha Sombrerito indigenous area until 1975, when they were driven out by a cattle rancher. Subsequently more ranches were established, among them the Floresta ranch.


They are now confined to small settlements at the edges of the original Sombrerito area. The Floresta ranch is in the municipality of Sete Quedas, on the border with Paraguay.


In 1999, a group of Guarani of the Sombrerito community were violently thrown off a portion of the land which they had attempted to reoccupy.


The government agency for indigenous people, FUNAI, began the long, complex process of returning the land to the Guarani in 2000, and that year the government promised to instigate an exhaustive survey of the area.


This is the first step towards ratification of land as indigenous territory is the formal identification of the relevant area, carried out by a Grupo Técnico (technical survey group), made up of anthropologists, archaeologists and other specialists.


FUNAI never began a survey of the Sombrerito, reportedly for lack of funds. The uncertainty, resulting from the delay in establishing indigenous land rights, often leads landowners to attack indigenous communities in an attempt to make them abandon their claims to the land.


Background


Some 37,000 Guarani Indians live in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The Brazilian authorities have recognized 25 indigenous areas totalling 40,000 hectares, and there is severe overcrowding in many reserves.


Peasants and indigenous people who occupy land peacefully are often violently evicted. In January 2003, 72-year-old Guarani-Kaiowá leader Marcos Verón led a small group in an attempt to peacefully reoccupy a small area of the Takuara indigenous territory in Mato Grosso do Sul.


He was severely beaten up by a group of men reportedly made up of farm laborers and hired thugs, and died two days later. In April 1996, military police killed 19 landless peasants while clearing them from a road in Eldorado dos Carajás, in Pará state.


Brazil’s 1988 constitution called for demarcation of all Indian lands by 1993, a goal which the authorities are still far from reaching.


In late 2004, some 400 Guarani-Kaiowá occupied a portion of the land, in Cerro Marangatu, that had been allocated to them by the government.


In January 2005, as their crops were close to harvest, ranchers obtained a court order for their eviction, which would have left them destitute.


The eviction order was suspended on March 2, and later that month Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva formally ratified the Cerro Marangatu indigenous territory, the last step in the process of obtaining land rights for the indigenous communities.


However, despite ratification, the Guarani-Kaiowá still only occupy a small part of the territory, most of which is still occupied by cattle ranchers.


Amnesty International – www.amnesty.org

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