Large landowners in southwestern Brazil have killed 279 indigenous people since 2003

By Inter-Press Service

The land conflict between the Guaraní-Kaiowá indigenous people and large landowners in the southwestern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul is a powder keg ready to explode, say observers.

Nísio Gomes, Jenivaldo Vera, Rolindo Vera, Teodoro Ricardi, Ortiz and Xurete Lopes are just a few of the names on a long list of people murdered in this state in recent years, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI).

The statistics gathered by the Council, founded in 1972 by the Brazilian National Bishops’ Conference, reveal that 279 indigenous people have been killed since 2003 in land disputes with landowners and ranchers.

The most recent case is that of Eduardo Pires, who disappeared on Aug. 10 when armed men attacked a group of Kaiowá people in the Arroio Korá indigenous reserve, located in the municipality of Paranhos in the south of the state, near the border with Paraguay.

Arroio Korá, an area of roughly 7,000 hectares, was officially recognized as indigenous land on Dec. 21, 2009 by then president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But one week later, a Federal Supreme Court ruling on an appeal filed by a landowner exempted a 184-hectare section of the land from this status.

“Even with this partial embargo, the government did not foresee that the rest would be effectively turned over to the Guaraní-Kaiowá,” said Flávio Machado, the CIMI regional coordinator in Mato Grosso do Sul. “The community, which is made up of around 600 members, currently occupies around 700 hectares. When they decided to retake control over the rest of the land, they met with a violent response,” he told Tierramérica*.

According to Eliseu, a Kaiowá leader who was present when the attack took place, on the morning of Aug. 10 some 400 members of the community set up a camp on a section of the officially recognised reserve land where a ranch is located.

A short time later, a number of armed men arrived. “I heard the gunshots and took off running. We are a people with a culture of peace, we have no weapons, but we are not going to give up fighting for our land. If we are going to die, we would rather die on our own land,” he told Tierramérica.

No one has seen Eduardo Pires since the attack. “I believe he is dead,” said Eliseu.

The Federal Police of Mato Grosso do Sul are in charge of the case. “The indigenous people say that one of them is missing. We are investigating, but we have nothing concrete. We have to be impartial,” Federal Police Superintendent Edgar Paulo Marcon commented to Tierramérica.

The following week, CIMI reports, the police removed a number of ranchers and their cattle from the area. Since then, the Kaiowá have been targeted by threats, the most explicit of which is a filmed declaration by Luis Carlos da Silva Vieira, known as Lenço Preto (“Black Kerchief”), posted on YouTube.

“We are going to organize and prepare for confrontation…They only want the land to be bothersome. We have weapons. If they want war, they’ll get war,” he states repeatedly.

In response, the Kaiowá community published a letter calling for urgent attention from the government. “Faced with a collective death threat, made publicly in the press by the landowners, we request an investigation and severe punishment of these promoters of the genocide/ethnocide of indigenous peoples.”

“Everyone knows that they have sophisticated and fearsome weapons, that they have money obtained at the expense of indigenous blood to buy more weapons and to hire gunmen… We do not have guns and, above all, we do not know how to use them,” the letter continues.

“We want to reiterate and highlight the fact that our fight for our ancestral lands is aimed solely at protecting human life and the fauna and flora of the planet Earth; it is not our intention to kill anyone.”

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