Guarani land rights – ‘a question of honour’

Guarani man
Guarani man
© João Ripper/Survival

The president of the Brazilian government’s Indian affairs department, FUNAI, has declared that resolving Guarani land rights in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul is ‘a question of honour’ and one of the main challenges facing the organization today.

FUNAI president Marcio Meira added that Brazil is being observed internationally regarding the situation of the Guarani and that it is unacceptable that the tribe live in such ‘precarious conditions’.

For decades the Guarani have been evicted from their lands and confined to overcrowded reservations where violence and malnutrition are rife. The tribe has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.  

According to the Catholic  indigenous rights organization CIMI, last year the homicide rate among the Guarani-Kaiowá was 20 times more that of São Paulo state, and at least 32 Guarani-Kaiowá committed suicide. Many Guarani say suicides and violence are a result of lack of land and loss of hope for a viable future.

According to Anastacio Peralta, a Guarani Kaiowá spokesman, in Brazilian society ‘a cow is worth more than an indigenous child and a soya plant more than a ipê tree’.

Last year the Attorney General’s office, which is responsible for ensuring indigenous rights are upheld, ordered FUNAI to implement a programme to recognise Guarani land rights. It duly established six working groups to survey Guarani lands with the aim of demarcating adequate territories for the tribe.

The working groups started work last August but an alliance of landowners, colonists and local politicians mounted a campaign against the Indians and many land owners refused to cooperate. Faced with escalating intimidation, the working groups halted the surveys.

Last week Brazil’s President Lula sent the minister in charge of institutional security, General Jorge Armando Félix, to the region to meet with politicians, landowners and the Indians and to report back on the situation.  The working groups are due to start work again this week.