Repossession of Indian Land in Brazil Comes with Death

    One indigenous person from Brazil was killed and five were injured after ranchers reacted to the reoccupation of their lands by indigenous Guarani people.

    This reoccupation took place in the Sombrerito tekoha (traditional Guarani land), located in the municipality of Sete Quedas, around 470 km from Campo Grande, state of Mato Grosso do Sul, in the early hours of Sunday, June 26.


    The Federal Police was at the repossessed ranch and, after hearing a sergeant from the Military Police and three indigenous people, an investigation has been set up.


    The indigenous people have remained in the area and have asked Funai to publish the report identifying the land, thus finalizing the first administrative step towards demarcation of Sombrerito.


    “We have shed our blood for the land of all our Guarani brothers. We need Funai to remove the invaders from our lands”, said Rosalino, the chief of the settlement nearest to the repossessed land, on Sunday.


    Funai has proposed to mediate a dialog between the indigenous people and the ranchers so that the Guarani people can continue on their lands.


    The substitute governor of Mato Grosso do Sul, Egon Krakhecke, spoke to Márcio Thomaz Bastos, the Minister of Justice, over the telephone and asked for the land rights study to be concluded quickly – this is the step that is missing for the report identifying the land to be finalized.


    He also asked for the police presence to be reinforced in the conflict zone to aid the disarming process.


    “We want the federal police to take the arms away from the hired troublemakers, gunmen and ranchers in the region who continue to threaten and commit crimes against our people,” the Kaiowá Guarani Indigenous People’s Rights Committee and State Committee for Indigenous People’s Rights, which are made up of leaders from all over Mato Grosso do Sul, wrote.


    According to information from indigenous people involved in the reoccupation action, 30 gunmen arrived in two pick-ups on Sunday morning and started shooting.


    One shot hit the Dorival Benitez, an indigenous person, in the thorax, killing him. Ari Benitez, Dorival’s brother, has been injured in the arm. Another indigenous person was injured in the eye, a young man aged 19 was slightly injured and a pregnant woman was beaten up. 


    “Especially after the announcement of children dying of malnutrition, public institutions such as Funai have said that the recognition of lands in Mato Grosso do Sul is on their list of priorities.


    “In practice, no real effort has been made to move forward with the indigenous land processes. This incites conflict and causes the indigenous people to react when they see their lands being exploited more and more,” said Egon Heck, of the Indianist Missionary Council.


    Reoccupation Actions


    Land reoccupation is the way that the indigenous people have found to return to living on their traditional lands, which have been invaded by ranchers.


    It is not, therefore, the indigenous people who “invade” the areas, as the press states when it reports these incidents, but the non-indigenous occupants who have invaded and taken them over.


    As the Brazilian state, which is responsible for demarcating the indigenous lands, does not carry out this demarcation process, the indigenous people are obliged to reoccupy the lands.


    In some cases, the ranchers have moved into the indigenous lands on their own initiative; in others, the indigenous lands were shared out by the State.


    In the region that is now known as Mato Grosso do Sul, it was the authorities that stimulated occupation of the indigenous lands through its colonization policy.  


    Indigenous people were expelled in the 1970s
    The region where the Sombrerito land is located was, from the start of the 20th century, used for producing maté, which was the main commercial product from the region for decades.


    Indigenous people were employed by the Matte Laranjeiras Company and continued to live in their lands. As production declined, during the 1970s, cattle ranching grew in the region. For this new business to expand, it was necessary to expel the indigenous population.


    The indigenous people who used to live in Sombrerito were expelled in 1975, by a rancher. They repossessed part of their land in September 1999.


    Under pressure, part of the group left the territory in December of the same year. The families that remained behind were expelled by gunmen in 2000 and took refuge in the Porto Lindo, Sete Cerros, Amambaí­, Jaguapiré and Aldeia Limão Verde lands.


    During the 1970s, Incra also settled little more than ten families in the region. But only 8 ranchers are owners of 90% of the lands identified as indigenous lands, which cover around 13,000 hectares. The work group charged with identifying the area was set up by Funai in 2003.


    Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council – www.cimi.org.br

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