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Tonico Benites, a leader of Brazil’s Guarani tribe, has traveled to Europe to draw attention to the “darker side of Brazil”, ahead of this summer’s Rio Olympics.
He said: “The situation Indigenous peoples face is being hidden and silenced. Brazil is making out that it treats its Indigenous peoples well but people interested in the Olympics need to know that there is a lot of injustice and violence against Indigenous peoples, and our lands are being stolen… It’s a great moment for us to show people the darker side of Brazil.”
The Guarani’s lands have been stolen and occupied by ranches and sugarcane and soya plantations, leaving them living on roadsides and in overcrowded reserves where they suffer malnutrition, disease, and the highest suicide rate in the world. They are frequently and systematically attacked by the ranchers’ gunmen and their leaders are being assassinated one by one.
Tonico – spokesman, anthropologist and coordinator of the Guarani Aty Guasu Association – is at the forefront of the Guarani’s campaign to return to their ancestral lands. He has received death threats and has been harassed by gunmen many times.
Tonico’s journey, supported by Front Line Defenders and Survival International, took him to Ireland, to the European Parliament in Brussels, and to London where he told his story to The Guardian newspaper and others, answered questions for an audience of thousands on the website Reddit, spoke to school students and protested against Brazil’s attack on its first peoples.
The Guarani fear that interim President Michel Temer and his anti-Indigenous allies of Brazil’s agricultural business lobby group will drastically weaken their rights, and worsen their already critical humanitarian crisis.
Congress is debating ‘PEC 215’, a plan to change the constitution which would give anti-Indian landowners the chance to block the recognition of new Indigenous territories – and might even enable them to break up existing ones. This would be a disaster for tribes around the country, who depend on their land for their survival.
Following a recent visit to the Guarani, the United Nations expert on Indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, expressed great concern about the current political chaos in Brazil and the danger it poses to the country’s Indians.
As Tonico brought his people’s story to Europe, Guarani leader Eliseu Lopes spoke out at the UN in New York, and other Guarani leaders are protesting in Brasília, calling for their lands to be returned once and for all.
Survival’s global Olympics campaign is pushing Brazil to stop PEC 215, and to protect the land of the uncontacted Kawahiva, one of the most threatened peoples on the planet.