Brazilian Indians Don’t Want Handouts But Their Land Back to Grow Food

Guarani Indians children from Brazil The situation of extreme poverty and no land to live as faced by the Guarani-Kaiowá in Brazil led the Federal Prosecutor's Office (Ministério Público Federal, MPF) to hold meetings during three days with indigenous leaders, anthropologists, experts in indigenous issues and representatives of federal public authorities.

The discussions held starting March 28 focused on problems being faced by the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and included presentations on a situation which is being referred to as a "humanitarian crisis" and discussions on ways for overcoming the crisis.

During the hearing, a proposal stood out: setting up a task force for demarcating lands in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and for identifying Guarani Tekohá traditional territories, which is considered the only long-term solution for the situation of lack of food being faced in the region, where most of the population depend on the distribution of food baskets by the government today.

"The land is what can fight hunger," said the Guarani Ambrósio Vilalba. The proposed task force would be in charge of preparing a list of Tekohá being claimed by the Guarani and of defining a timetable for identifying lands in the state.

One of the possibilities for speeding up the much-delayed removal of non-indigenous people from the lands in question is for the state of Mato Grosso do Sul to buy back title deeds to lands, which could not have been transferred to third parties legally, compensating their current owners and giving the land back to the indigenous people, as suggested by professor Antônio Brand of the Dom Bosco Catholic University. This proposal, he stressed, is not the same thing as buying lands for the indigenous people.

The second proposal was to ask the minister of Justice, Tarso Genro, and the Human Rights Defense Council (CDDPH) to pay a visit to the area urgently to become acquainted with legal issues affecting indigenous peoples in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, particularly issues related to arrests of indigenous people and to the population of inmates housed in prisons in that state.

There are at least 123 indigenous people arrested in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, about 48 of whom in the city of Amambaí­. "This disproportionate number of indigenous people in prison may be a sign that they are being persecuted," said the Attorney General, Eugênio Aragão.

Another issue addressed was the need to find a definitive solution for the distribution of food baskets to the Guarani, especially in the Dourados region, where more children have been dying.

After the state government decided to suspend the distribution of food baskets in January, the Ministry of Social Development made baskets available to be distributed in the following month. The distribution of food baskets was resumed, but the policy problem involved remains unsolved.

Other discussions focused on problems involved for legalizing the occupation of Guarani lands by them and on hurdles and solutions to be tackled to ensure their recognition.

The hearing also addressed problems afflicting Guarani populations in border regions between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, who are facing similar problems caused by poverty and lack of land. The discussions will focus on "Public policies and citizenship rights" and "Analysis of the proposal for the regional integration of public policies and rights."

Cimi

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