Landmark trial of Indian’s ‘killers’ suspended

May 7, 2010

Marcos Veron, Guarani leader. The trial of Veron’s suspected killers began Monday in São Paulo but has been suspended. © João Ripper/Survival

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The trial of three men accused of killing the Guarani Indian leader Marcos Veron of Mato Grosso do Sul state, Brazil, has been suspended.
The trial began on Monday, but was adjourned, as the judge refused to hear the testimonies of the Guarani witnesses in their own language.

The public prosecutors representing the Guarani abandoned the trial, saying all the Guarani witnesses, regardless of their knowledge of Portuguese, should have the right to express themselves in Guarani. 

The refusal to allow the Guarani to speak in their own language in court is a violation of Brazilian and international law.

Public prosecutor Vladimir Aras said, ‘In seventeen years of trials this is only the second time I have had to abandon a plenary session… The court is not the place to restrict one’s rights’.

The trial was initially scheduled to start on 12th April, but was postponed until this month as the lawyer of one of the defendants allegedly began a twenty-day period of psychotherapy.

Marcos Veron’s son, Ládio Veron Cavalheiro, said, ‘For the second time, we came here (to São Paulo) expecting the trial to take place, but they violated our right to speak our own language’.

Marcos Veron, a well-known and internationally respected Guarani Kaiowá leader, was beaten to death in 2003 by gunmen working for a local rancher, in front of family members, after he led his community’s reoccupation of their ancestral land of Takuara.

Read the obituary of Marcos Veron, published in The Guardian.

The defendants, Estevão Romero, Carlos Roberto dos Santos and Jorge Cristaldo Insabralde, employees on the ranch which took the land from Veron’s community, are accused of homicide, false imprisonment, and other charges. A fourth suspect, Nivaldo Alves de Oliveira, is currently on the run.

The Attorney General’s office said of Veron’s killers, ‘Armed with guns, they threatened, beat and shot at the Indigenous leaders. Veron, then 72, was taken to hospital with serious head injuries, where he died.’

In 2000 Marcos Veron traveled to Europe at the invitation of Survival to highlight the desperate situation of the Guarani.

Veron said about Takuara, ‘This here is my life, my soul. If 
you take me away from this land, you take my life.’

The trial was being held in São Paulo as the Attorney General’s office decided a jury and judge from Mato Grosso do Sul were highly unlikely to be impartial. They said, ‘there exists strong prejudice against the Indigenous people among important members of Mato Grosso do Sul society’.

It is very rare for those accused of killing Indigenous peoples in Brazil to face trial. Survival’s report on the Guarani, sent to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination earlier this year, documents high levels of violence against the Guarani. Indian leaders who head the reoccupations of their ancestral land are systematically targeted by hitmen.

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival, said today, ‘Marcos Veron’s death was a huge blow to his people, and a direct result of his fight for his community’s land. It is crucial that his killers are brought to justice- the trial must continue as soon as possible and the Guarani must be permitted to express themselves in their own language. The Brazilian authorities must also map out and protect the land of the Guarani so that they no longer need to risk their lives in order to exercise their constitutional right to live on their land’.

It is not yet known when the trial will recommence.