The Brazilian authorities must immediately suspend a court order to evict 170 Guarani–Kaiowá indigenous people from a portion of their ancestral lands, Amnesty International said after the community pledged to die together rather than be forced off their territory.
Some 170 people – including 70 children – from the Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay community near Iguatemi in southern Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state are at risk of eviction following the order, which a regional federal court upheld on 17 September.
The community has been occupying a two-hectare tract of forest along the Hovy River for almost a year, after gunmen razed their previous settlement to the ground.
Carrying out the eviction order would force community members to camp by the side of a road, exposing them to extremely dangerous conditions and cutting them off from their ancestral lands and way of life.
“The Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay have made themselves clear that being forced off their ancestral lands again would be tantamount to their very cultural extinction – the eviction order must be suspended immediately,” said Átila Roque, Director of Amnesty International Brazil.
The Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay community reoccupied their ancestral lands – now claimed by soya and sugar cane farmers who moved into the area – in November 2011, after a truckload of gunmen launched an assault on their previous encampment by the side of a dirt track. The attackers fired rubber bullets at community members and burnt their huts and belongings.
Since the reoccupation, local farmers have blocked off entry points to the land, denying community members access to schooling, healthcare and delivery of food supplies. The Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay have complained of dire living conditions and ongoing threats in this virtual state of siege.
“The authorities must immediately ensure the Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay community has access to basic services, including food, water and healthcare. Any allegations of threats against them must be fully investigated,” said Roque.
Federal prosecutors have challenged local farmers’ efforts to use the courts to seek the community’s eviction. They assert the judge failed to take into account a March 2012 technical report by Brazil’s indigenous agency (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) which clearly shows that the community are living on lands traditionally occupied by Guarani –Kaiowá Indigenous People.
The community has reaffirmed their rights to their ancestral lands and vowed to resist any attempts to remove them.
Community members sent an open letter to the Brazilian government and judiciary, saying:
“We know that we will be driven out from the side of the river by the courts, but we have decided that we will not leave. As a native, historically indigenous people, we have decided that we will be killed here together.”
Amnesty International urged the Brazilian authorities to live up to their obligations under international agreements and their constitution to complete all outstanding land demarcations to define the extent of territories traditionally occupied by Indigenous Peoples.
Mato Grosso do Sul state contains some of Brazil’s smallest, poorest and most densely populated indigenous areas.
Some 60,000 Guarani-Kaiowá Indigenous people live a precarious existence – social breakdown has led to high levels of violence, suicide and malnutrition and life is plagued by ill-health and squalid living conditions.
Frustrated at the slowness of the land demarcation process, the Guarani-Kaiowá people have begun reoccupying ancestral lands, but have been subjected to intimidation and violent evictions.
In November 2007 the Ministry of Justice, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, FUNAI and 23 indigenous leaders, signed an agreement (Termo de Ajustamento de Conduta, TAC) which committed FUNAI to identify 36 different Guarani-Kaiowá ancestral lands – including Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay land – by April 2010.
The process has still not been completed due to lack of resources and legal challenges.
Meanwhile, several Guarani-Kaiowá communities have ended up living beside highways. They have been exposed to threats from security guards hired to prevent them from trying to reoccupy land, health problems related to living in inadequate temporary shelters and lack of medical assistance. A large number have been killed and injured in traffic accidents.