How Agricultural Exports Are Killing Brazil’s Kaiowá and Guarani Peoples

For more than half a century, the indigenous Kaiowá and Guarani people of Brazil have been deprived of their ancestral lands, and consigned to small reserves where it is impossible to maintain their traditional livelihoods.

Generations of these indigenous peoples’ lives have been marked by violence and vulnerability as they have tried to reclaim what, according to the Brazilian constitution, is rightfully theirs.

And now we have found that increasing globalization is posing an urgent threat. In March 2018, as part of the Global-Rural research project based at Aberystwyth University, we visited the Kaiowá and Guarani people who live near Dourados, in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

We investigated how increasing worldwide integration is impacting the Brazilian countryside, and explored the ways in which the Kaiowá and Guarani peoples’ lives are being affected by the intensification and expansion of industrialized agriculture production used for foreign markets.

We spoke to indigenous leaders and families based in several Kaiowá and Guarani villages across the municipalities of Juti, Rio Brilhante, Dourados and Caarapó, and found out the devastating consequences of globalization on their way of life.

Ancestral Lands

The first dispossession of Kaiowá and Guarani indigenous lands took place at the end of the 19th century, when the Brazilian government gave five million hectares to the Mate Laranjeira Company. Under the pretext of defending the interests of the native peoples, the state also founded the SPI (Indian Protection Service), which created indigenous land reserves.

Different ethnicities (the Kaiowá, Guarani, Terena and others) were forced to live together in these reserves, despite historical hostilities. They were catechized, taught to communicate in Portuguese (and strongly discouraged from using their native languages) and became assimilated as “Brazilians”.

There was not enough space in the reserves for the people to continue hunting, and use the local natural resources for their subsistence as they had done traditionally, so they were forced to learn the professions of the non-indigenous.

In the 1980s, after the military dictatorship, when Brazil was engaging in a re-democratization process, the Kaiowá and Guarani found themselves at a crossroads. They would cease to exist if they continued to live on the reserves, or they could leave and reoccupy their ancestral lands to preserve their culture, roots and livelihood.

In choosing the latter option, they faced armed ranchers and farmers who would defend private property at any cost. And so began the worst human rights violations and violence against the Kaiowá and Guarani peoples to ever occur.

Though the Brazilian Federal Constitution guaranteed indigenous people the right to the land in 1988, it also established a limit of ten years to demarcate and hand over the land, and compensate farmers. Now, after 30 years, the demarcation process is far from completed.

Since the early 2000s, land reoccupation conflicts have intensified. According to one survey, some 258 Kaiowá and Guarani leaders were murdered in Mato Grosso do Sul between 2003 and 2011. These ongoing violent conflicts, the displacement and the ongoing genocide of the Kaiowá and Guarani have been internationally denounced. Yet, even though it has received global attention, it is still seen as only a local problem.

Local Issues Against Global Interests

One of the main reasons why the land conflicts haven’t been resolved is down to the value of agribusiness. Farming is championed as the flagship of the Brazilian economy, with increasing portions of lands being used to intensify industrial and mechanized agriculture.

In the last ten years, this sector has grown further, along with the exportation of commodities, especially soy. Brazil has been declared a global agribusiness powerhouse, and praised for supplying the “four Fs” – food, feed, fuel and fibre – to the world.

While we were in Brazil, we saw the everyday threats of living in a contested territory surrounded by industrial plantations. We witnessed three occupied villages near Dourados being evicted, to make way for large scale monocultures (where one crop is grown).

Though the Kaiowá and Guarani were there protecting their lands with indigenous rituals, they still expected the worst to happen – and so did we. We prepared an escape plan with the people, whereby we researchers would save the children if military troops arrived.

Although the eviction was ultimately postponed, this shows how the Kaiowá and Guarani live in constant fear of being removed from their land, of being intoxicated by the contaminated water, air and soil, of been killed.

During our research, we also visited families who had been evicted from reoccupied areas due to agribusiness expansion, and left with no land. Squeezed between sugar cane, soy and corn plantations, they were ousted to the sides of roads.

We spoke to an indigenous leader, who was living at the edge of a road, driven from her indigenous land. She cried over the death of her husband and son, which were due to land conflicts, and lamented the health problems that came from chemicals put by agribusiness on the land.

She mentioned that the children specifically had increasingly experienced headaches, stomach problems and sickness, which they believed was due to water contamination – and that some of them had lost their lives.

She told us of the challenges to her people’s livelihood and the unbearable situation to which they are now condemned. One of the indigenous leaders claimed “Europeans should know that in the bio-ethanol they are importing from Brazil they will find our blood”.

While, sugar cane, soy and cattle take over the landscape in the southwest of Mato Grosso do Sul, it is impossible to ensure a healthy livelihood for the Kaiowá and Guarani. They have no access to drinkable water, no protection from agrochemical contamination, and no adequate conditions for planting, hunting or fishing.

The conditions are violent and the Kaiowá and Guarani people are in a precarious position. In the name of global development, progress and sustainability, the silent genocide of one of the largest ethnic groups in the country is taking place.

Francesca Fois is a post-doctoral researcher at Aberystwyth University.

Silvio Marcio Montenegro Machado is a lecturer in Human Geography at Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia Baiano – Campus Santa Inês.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/blood-in-bio-ethanol-how-indigenous-peoples-lives-are-being-destroyed-by-global-agribusiness-in-brazil-101348

Tags:

  • Show Comments (0)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Ads

You May Also Like

The Mercosur countries: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay

Mercosur Seems Close to a Breakthrough in the Negotiations with European Union

Brazil’s presence and participation in Mercosur has continued to develop significantly in recent months. ...

A motoboy in São Paulo delivering food

Underage Delivery App Workers Way Too Common in Brazil

Cases of children working for food delivery apps in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic ...

Brazil Indians Dying from Extreme Poverty and for Lack of Food, Water

Brazil’s National Food Security and Nutrition (CONSEA) submitted recommendations to several federal and state ...

It seems the future never arrives in Brazil What Lies Ahead in Brazil? Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country? Europeans, US, developed country, developing country. Bolsonaro, future B. Michael Rubin For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country is one simple way to measure its economic development. Another way to measure a country's progress is the extent of public education, e.g. how many citizens complete high school. A country's health may be measured by the effectiveness of its healthcare system, for example, life expectancy and infant mortality. With these measurement tools, it's easier to gauge the difference between a country like Brazil and one like the U.S. What's not easy to gauge is how these two countries developed so differently when they were both "discovered" at the same time. In 1492 and 1500 respectively, the U.S. and Brazil fell under the spell of white Europeans for the first time. While the British and Portuguese had the same modus operandi, namely, to exploit their discoveries for whatever they had to offer, not to mention extinguishing the native Americans already living there if they got in the way, the end result turned out significantly different in the U.S. than in Brazil. There are several theories on how/why the U.S. developed at a faster pace than Brazil. The theories originate via contrasting perspectives – from psychology to economics to geography. One of the most popular theories suggests the divergence between the two countries is linked to politics, i.e. the U.S. established a democratic government in 1776, while Brazil's democracy it could be said began only in earnest in the 1980s. This theory states that the Portuguese monarchy, as well as the 19th and 20th century oligarchies that followed it, had no motivation to invest in industrial development or education of the masses. Rather, Brazil was prized for its cheap and plentiful labor to mine the rich soil of its vast land. There is another theory based on collective psychology that says the first U.S. colonizers from England were workaholic Puritans, who avoided dancing and music in place of work and religious devotion. They labored six days a week then spent all of Sunday in church. Meanwhile, the white settlers in Brazil were unambitious criminals who had been freed from prison in Portugal in exchange for settling in Brazil. The Marxist interpretation of why Brazil lags behind the U.S. was best summarized by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, in 1970. Galeano said five hundred years ago the U.S. had the good fortune of bad fortune. What he meant was the natural riches of Brazil – gold, silver, and diamonds – made it ripe for exploitation by western Europe. Whereas in the U.S., lacking such riches, the thirteen colonies were economically insignificant to the British. Instead, U.S. industrialization had official encouragement from England, resulting in early diversification of its exports and rapid development of manufacturing. II Leaving this debate to the historians, let us turn our focus to the future. According to global projections by several economic strategists, what lies ahead for Brazil, the U.S., and the rest of the world is startling. Projections forecast that based on GDP growth, in 2050 the world's largest economy will be China, not the U.S. In third place will be India, and in fourth – Brazil. With the ascendency of three-fourths of the BRIC countries over the next decades, it will be important to reevaluate the terms developed and developing. In thirty years, it may no longer be necessary to accept the label characterized by Nelson Rodrigues's famous phrase "complexo de vira-lata," for Brazil's national inferiority complex. For Brazilians, this future scenario presents glistening hope. A country with stronger economic power would mean the government has greater wealth to expend on infrastructure, crime control, education, healthcare, etc. What many Brazilians are not cognizant of are the pitfalls of economic prosperity. While Brazilians today may be envious of their wealthier northern neighbors, there are some aspects of a developed country's profile that are not worth envying. For example, the U.S. today far exceeds Brazil in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses, and mass shootings. GDP growth and economic projections depend on multiple variables, chief among them the global economic situation and worldwide political stability. A war in the Middle East, for example, can affect oil production and have global ramifications. Political stability within a country is also essential to its economic health. Elected presidents play a crucial role in a country's progress, especially as presidents may differ radically in their worldview. The political paths of the U.S. and Brazil are parallel today. In both countries, we've seen a left-wing regime (Obama/PT) followed by a far-right populist one (Trump/Bolsonaro), surprising many outside observers, and in the U.S. contradicting every political pollster, all of whom predicted a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Brazil, although Bolsonaro was elected by a clear majority, his triumph has created a powerful emotional polarization in the country similar to what is happening in the U.S. Families, friends, and colleagues have split in a love/hate relationship toward the current presidents in the U.S. and Brazil, leaving broken friendships and family ties. Both presidents face enormous challenges to keep their campaign promises. In Brazil, a sluggish economy just recovering from a recession shows no signs of robust GDP growth for at least the next two years. High unemployment continues to devastate the consumer confidence index in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is suffering under his campaign boasts that his Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, has all the answers to fix Brazil's slump. Additionally, there is no end to the destruction caused by corruption in Brazil. Some experts believe corruption to be the main reason why Brazil has one of the world's largest wealth inequality gaps. Political corruption robs government coffers of desperately needed funds for education and infrastructure, in addition to creating an atmosphere that encourages everyday citizens to underreport income and engage in the shadow economy, thereby sidestepping tax collectors and regulators. "Why should I be honest about reporting my income when nobody else is? The politicians are only going to steal the tax money anyway," one Brazilian doctor told me. While Bolsonaro has promised a housecleaning of corrupt officials, this is a cry Brazilians have heard from every previous administration. In only the first half-year of his presidency, he has made several missteps, such as nominating one of his sons to be the new ambassador to the U.S., despite the congressman's lack of diplomatic credentials. A June poll found that 51 percent of Brazilians now lack confidence in Bolsonaro's leadership. Just this week, Brazil issued regulations that open a fast-track to deport foreigners who are dangerous or have violated the constitution. The rules published on July 26 by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro define a dangerous person as anyone associated with terrorism or organized crime, in addition to football fans with a violent history. Journalists noted that this new regulation had coincidental timing for an American journalist who has come under fire from Moro for publishing private communications of Moro's. Nevertheless, despite overselling his leadership skills, Bolsonaro has made some economic progress. With the help of congressional leader Rodrigo Maia, a bill is moving forward in congress for the restructuring of Brazil's generous pension system. Most Brazilians recognize the long-term value of such a change, which can save the government billions of dollars over the next decade. At merely the possibility of pension reform, outside investors have responded positively, and the São Paulo stock exchange has performed brilliantly, reaching an all-time high earlier this month. In efforts to boost the economy, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes have taken the short-term approach advocated by the Chicago school of economics championed by Milton Friedman, who claimed the key to boosting a slugging economy was to cut government spending. Unfortunately many economists, such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, disagree with this approach. They believe the most effective way to revive a slow economy is exactly the opposite, to spend more money not less. They say the government should be investing money in education and infrastructure projects, which can help put people back to work. Bolsonaro/Guedes have also talked about reducing business bureaucracy and revising the absurdly complex Brazilian tax system, which inhibits foreign and domestic business investment. It remains to be seen whether Bolsonaro has the political acumen to tackle this Godzilla-sized issue. Should Bolsonaro find a way to reform the tax system, the pension system, and curb the most egregious villains of political bribery and kickbacks – a tall order – his efforts could indeed show strong economic results in time for the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, some prominent leaders have already lost faith in Bolsonaro's efforts. The veteran of political/economic affairs, Joaquim Levy, has parted company with the president after being appointed head of the government's powerful development bank, BNDES. Levy and Bolsonaro butted heads over an appointment Levy made of a former employee of Lula's. When neither man refused to back down, Levy resigned his position at BNDES. Many observers believe Bolsonaro's biggest misstep has been his short-term approach to fixing the economy by loosening the laws protecting the Amazon rainforest. He and Guedes believe that by opening up more of the Amazon to logging, mining, and farming, we will see immediate economic stimulation. On July 28, the lead article of The New York Times detailed the vastly increased deforestation in the Amazon taking place under Bolsonaro's leadership. Environmental experts argue that the economic benefits of increased logging and mining in the Amazon are microscopic compared to the long-term damage to the environment. After pressure from European leaders at the recent G-20 meeting to do more to protect the world's largest rainforest, Bolsonaro echoed a patriotic response demanding that no one has the right to an opinion about the Amazon except Brazilians. In retaliation to worldwide criticism, Bolsonaro threatened to follow Trump's example and pull out of the Paris climate accord; however, Bolsonaro was persuaded by cooler heads to retract his threat. To prove who was in control of Brazil's Amazon region, he appointed a federal police officer with strong ties to agribusiness as head of FUNAI, the country's indigenous agency. In a further insult to the world's environmental leaders, not to mention common sense, Paulo Guedes held a news conference on July 25 in Manaus, the largest city in the rainforest, where he declared that since the Amazon forest is known for being the "lungs" of the world, Brazil should charge other countries for all the oxygen the forest produces. Bolsonaro/Guedes also have promised to finish paving BR-319, a controversial highway that cuts through the Amazon forest, linking Manaus to the state of Rondônia and the rest of the country. Inaugurated in 1976, BR-319 was abandoned by federal governments in the 1980s and again in the 1990s as far too costly and risky. Environmentalists believe the highway's completion will seal a death knoll on many indigenous populations by vastly facilitating the growth of the logging and mining industries. Several dozen heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues invaded a Wajãpi village recently in the state of Amapá near the border of French Guiana and fatally stabbed one of the community's leaders. While Brazil's environmental protection policies are desperately lacking these days, not all the news here was bad. On the opening day of the 2019 Pan America Games in Lima, Peru, Brazilian Luisa Baptista, swam, biked, and ran her way to the gold medal in the women's triathlon. The silver medal went to Vittoria Lopes, another Brazilian. B. Michael Rubin is an American writer living in Brazil.

Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country?

For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. ...

Victims of the massacre get buried in close-by graves - Photo: Dinho Santos

Eviction in Brazil Ends Up in the Massacre by Police of Ten People

Ten campesinos (nine men and one woman) were killed by Brazil’s military and civilian ...

IMF Is Bullish on Brazil Again

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting that Brazil will surpass Italy next year ...