Brazilian Indigenous Delegation Visit to London in October 2016
by Genna Naccache*
From October 3rd to the 6th I had the privilege to join the Brazilian Guarani Kaiowá Indigenous delegation in their mission in London. My professor Dr Corinne Lennox put me in touch with Chris Chapman of Amnesty International, who was organising the visit. My dissertation is on the ongoing genocide of the Guarani Kaiowá. This seemed like a great coincidence and a perfect opportunity to gain an insight into the group’s culture and its centrality to ancestral land, as well as a deeper understanding of the conflict they are experiencing and its destructive consequences for them. The delegation was formed by Elizeu Lopes Guarani Kaiowa – Aty Guasu Guarani Kaiowa; Flavio machado and Ruy Menezes – Conselho Missionário Indigenista (CIMI) and Valéria Buriti – FIAN International, and Ruy Meneses – CIMI.
The first meeting which took place at Amnesty International was a round-table discussion on what each participant/organisation has been doing on this case and what expertise they could offer. In the meeting, the delegation raised attention to the dangers the group is facing in Mato Grosso do Sul. Mato Grosso do Sul has been centre stage for severe land conflicts between the ruralist farmers and the Guarani Kaiowá, and much indigenous blood has been shed. At the roots of the conflict lie the drastic changes in the Brazilian landscape with the global demand for exports such as soya for farm feed and sugarcane for the biofuels. This has had a devastating impact on the rights of the Guarani Kaiowá who has become internally displaced as a result, and now live in destitution confined to small parcels of land or roadsides that inhibit their practice of cultural rituals as hunter-gatherers. Their ancestral land, so crucial to their existence, has been taken away by the agribusiness, which promotes deforestation and intense agricultural practices using chemical fertilizers, known to pollute the environment and drinking water. The Guarani fight for their ancestral land elicits violence from cattle ranchers and plantation owners.
At the Amnesty International meeting, CIMI, FIAN and Elizeu talked about the murders, suicides of young people, the camping on roadsides while waiting for the demarcation of their land, malnutrition and child mortality, the ancestral land demarcation process and the Brazilian government’s failure to respond to the Guarani Kaiowá urgent crisis. Life in the campsites is especially dangerous for children who are often run over by trucks, adding to the already high indigenous child mortality rate in the area. Suicides are also major factors in claiming Guarani Kaoiwá young people’s lives. These further amplify the tragedy which undermines the life of the group. Elizeu told during the meeting that on the border with Paraguay, farmers conduct regular attacks with impunity. Crimes range from systematic assassinations of their leaders, kidnappings, beatings, torture and rape. During 2015, at least five chemical attacks were launched by tractors and airplanes. Poison is deliberately deposited in the river, the only available water source, on the group’s plantations, the only food source, and directly over indigenous tents. While this is happening, gunmen prevent people from leaving the area.
The suicide rate among the Guarani Kaiowá is one of the highest for indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in the world. According to CIMI 2015 Report, there were 752 indigenous suicides from 2000 to 2015. The National Health Foundation (NHF) reported that 221 children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 19 were among the group. In 2008 alone the suicide rate among the Guarani Kaiowá reached 8,797 per 100,000. The homicide rate in the Dourados reserves is 145 murders per 100,000 habitants, higher than the national average by 49%, 24.5 homicides per 100,000. Since 1980, approximately 1500 young indigenous people took their own lives’ in Brazil.
The delegation’s mission in London aimed to seek ways on how to combine international efforts for the protection of the rights of Guarani Kaiowá. During the open discussion in the Amnesty International event, the participants talked about innovative campaigns, thinking of legal actions; UN and other international forums; media, public awareness raising, and more. We had a full agenda as the delegation had meetings with the Brazilian Embassy, CAFOD, Global Witness, Amnesty International’s business and human rights researcher, as well as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where we had a very productive meeting with Nigel Baker, the Head of South American Department and Deputy Director of the Americas, and his team.
The highlight of the delegation’s visit was the panel event Indigenous Peoples of Brazil: Human Rights and Environment in Crisis held at the Human Rights Consortium (HRC) on Tuesday 4th October with the indigenous delegation and Chris Chapman of Amnesty International, chaired by HRC Director, Dr Damien Short. Both of the events provided a crucial platform to raise awareness on the situation of Guarani Kaiowá and to generate international support to prevent violence against them.
Today in Mato Grosso do Sul more than forty indigenous camping sites line roadsides, sit at the back of farms and/or on town peripheries, while their inhabitants wait for the demarcation of their traditional territory. In the context of social instability, violations to life, health, security and dignity occur. Sadly, the government is also responsible for these crimes, as it is not fulfilling its responsibility to protect the group despite being aware of the problems facing them. The history of oppression and violence, explains CIMI, is the result of a disastrous State policy, which is fulfilled in the name of acute greed. Unable to access clean water, basic sanitation and decent housing, the Guarani Kaiowá live without the basic conditions for existence, which makes the farmers’ violations even more inhumane. This is an extremely urgent cause as the Guarani Kaiowá are experiencing a process of genocide. Not only their leaders are being murdered, their youth are committing suicide, their food is contaminated and they live in destitution, but their group is disintegrating under the harsh life in the small reserves and with them their cultural heritage is also dying.
Government’s economic development policies are influenced by the agribusiness. Not only is the indigenous right to ancestral land, decreed in the 1988 constitution, being denied, but the Guarani Kaiowá are being systematically murdered, and their youth are committing suicide due to the lack of perspective which stems from the lack of access to ancestral land so central to their identity and way of life. This is described by Brazilian Academics as a slow and ongoing genocide of the Guarani Kaiowá, due to the losses experienced when they were forcibly moved into small reserves where they start experiencing the dispersal of families, breaking of alliances, suppression of their cultural practices, the suicide of their youth and the beginning of constant conflict and violence.
The delegation’s visit to London sought an answer to how the international community can contribute more effectively to the protection of the group in the face of the imminent dangers they face in Mato Grosso do Sul. Besides assisting them as an interpreter during the official meetings and events, I also had the chance to interview the Guarani Kaiowá leader every day with questions related to all aspects of the conflict, their culture with a focus on religion, and their everyday lives. I hope my dissertation, which highly benefited from this mission, will be another contribution to the efforts to develop a deeper understanding on the conflict facing the Guarani Kaiowá.
* Genna Naccache has recently finished her MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights, at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.