In 2012 social networks’ users in Brazil organised around a social and human rights issue. People from different ages and backgrounds started using the denomination “Guarani Kaiowá” after their names, supporting the hashtag #somostodosguaranikaiowá (#weareallguaranikaiowá in free translation). The virtual movement was created after the indigenous people Guarani Kaiowá asked for their own extinction, as a cry for help to the violence they have been suffering. This population has a history of being violently oppressed, when not killed, as a result of land conflicts in the Midwest region of Brazil.
Despite the mobilisation, little has changed for Guarani Kaiowá people. The Brazilian government has not done enough to stop violence or to guarantee the distribution of the indigenous lands back to the Guarani Kaiowá people. Worse, new laws are being proposed in order to allow economic activities, such as agribusiness, to use indigenous territory. Today, 13% of Brazil’s rural territory is indigenous. If this law is approved, the number would reduce to 2,6%. The Guarani Kaiowás live in less than 0,2% of Mato Grosso do Sul state territory.
To get international support and awareness about the indigenous fight for justice in Brazil, social organisations sponsored Cacique (indigenous community leader) Ladio Verón to visit seven European countries in last March. Verón, also known as Ava Taperendi among his community, is 50 years-old and is the leader of the Guarani Kaiowá community named Takuara, located in the city of Dourados (Mato Grosso do Sul). Verón is also one of the leaders of Aty Guasu – an assembly of Guarani Kaiowá leaderships -, and a school history teacher in Takuara. For the past few months, Verón has been hiding after receiving several death threats.
In front of an excited audience, he talked about the government’s lack of commitment in demarcating the indigenous lands; the oppression and violence they suffer to simply fight for their rights; and the appeal for international support.
The struggle of the indigenous youth
Just like the 30,000 Guarani Kaiowá in South America, many indigenous people are in great danger. In order to enhance their strength, they look forward to creating a network of young indigenous leaderships. The youth indigenous population is one of the most threatened. The high suicide rates among young indigenous people is alarming.
According to the 2014 Report on Violence Against Indigenous People in Brazil, 135 suicides were reported being 90% committed by people from ages 10 to 29 years old. The states with the highest suicide rates in Brazil are Mato Grosso do Sul (MS) and Amazonas (AM), where most of the indigenous populations live.
“Every two weeks, two or three young Guarani Kaiowá commit suicide in MS. Recently, we have saved one of them and asked him why he was doing it. He answered ’I’m afraid because the police keeps shooting at us. I saw my mother, who is 84 years-old, being hit by rubber bullets. I have nothing to give to my kids. If I keep camping here [land occupation is part of the indigenous strategy to get their territory back], I will not get anything. So I would rather die, because I have nothing else to offer.’ He was a 22 year old boy”, says Verón.
Although many suicide cases are reported, many murder cases of indigenous are registered as “suicide” by the police, in order to protect the killers. “Many other [indigenous bodies] we find have not really committed suicide, they were killed!”, states Verón. “We found my sibling, Virgílio, wrapped in a wire fence and when the police came they said he committed suicide because he was drunk, even after we saw him being dragged and hanged.”
Violence as an answer to the fight for rights
The murders against indigenous people have startled organisations from all over the world. Last year, the United Nations’ ambassador for Indigenous Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, shared extreme concern regarding the situation of the indigenous people in Brazil, after visiting the country.
“There have been major setbacks in the protection of indigenous rights, a trend that might get worse if authorities do not take the necessary action against it”, she declared.
From 2003 to 2015, almost 900 indigenous deaths were registered, according to Indigenous Missionary Council. Only in 2015, there were 137 murders.The state with the highest rate is Mato Grosso do Sul, with 36 homicides of indigenous people in 2015, 69% of those against young people from ages 10 to 29.
The city of Dourados, where Ladio Verón lives, has the most elevated rate. The economic and political power of the local elite, related to the international investments which support Brazil’s agribusiness, has a big influence on the discrimination and violence towards the Guarani Kaiowás within Mato Grosso do Sul.
“During one of the recent land recaptures, a health agent, a kid, and an elder woman were killed. But the cops only registered the death of the health agent. The child and the women, who were indigenous, were not registered. That is what the farm and land owners are doing: killing our young people and hanging them in fences and stakes, telling us it was suicide. The others really commit suicide because they do not have anything to give their children.”
Verón himself, has lost close relatives due to land conflicts and systemic violence. In 2003, his father, Marcos Verón, who used to be the community leader, was killed in front of his family during a land recapture. “My brother, Valmir, was attacked many times, he’d always have bruises. He could not handle it and killed himself. I already lost four brothers, a niece, an uncle, and my father.”
The violence and oppression are directly related to the Guarani Kaiowás land struggle. After visiting Brazil, Tauli-Corpuz argued that “the attacks and murders are retaliations against indigenous that are reoccupying their ancestors lands after decades waiting on their territory demarcation.
In January 13th 2005, a territory with 1,700 hectares was declared as Guarani Kaiowá indigenous land. Seven years later, the land was affirmed, but until now it has not been passed over to the Guarani Kaiowá.
“The government should have given us our land many years ago, because it´s ours! We went to Brasilia [Brazil’s capital] and talked to Joaquim Barbosa, the justice minister at the time. When we found the document affirming our land, we noticed it has been established since Fernando Henrique’s government [1995-2002]. So why didn’t the government give us our land?”, questions Verón.
In order to guarantee territorial and human rights, the Guarani Kaiowá people are getting together in networks and reporting the violations. In August, the leaderships will gather during Aty Guasu, when they will share their experiences and struggles with the younger generations and leaders.”We are creating a new generation of warriors and leaders to fight for our rights. We need to engage the youth, because sooner or later we will not be here anymore. I do not even know what to expect when I come back to Brazil”, he finishes.