By Andrew Willis, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A Brazilian federal court ruled Tuesday (October 30th) that a group of 170 Guarani-Kaiowá ethnic Indians can remain on a one-hectare plot of land in Mato Grosso do Sul state for the time being. The dispute hit the headlines last week after the group of Indians said they would rather die than be evicted.
Judge Cecília Mello of the Regional Federal Tribunal of the 3rd Region said the Indians should be allowed to stay on the land until a final decision on the area’s rightful owner is made. In a document, the judge said the group “can not be evicted from the land that they occupy because those lands are the subject of an administrative process of demarcation.”
Last week the group of Guarani-Kaiowá Indians told the government in a letter that they would rather die than leave their ancestral lands. This followed a decision by a lower Brazilian court, ordering the group to leave the area currently occupied by a ranch.
The letter said the lower court’s decision was “part of the historic extermination of the indigenous peoples of Brazil”.
Roughly 46,000 members of the Guarani-Kaiowá group live in a 30,000-hectare area in the southern part of Mato Grosso do Sul, making it Brazil’s largest population of indigenous Indians. The western state borders Paraguay and Bolivia and has a vegetation of savannah and forest, crisscrossed by a series of rivers.
Living conditions of the Guarani-Kaiowá and other ethnic groups vary considerably, those that occupy lands ‘demarked’ as indigenous enjoy some freedom to pursue their traditional ways of life. Others live under more precarious conditions, frequently in crowded camps on roadsides without access to basic facilities while they wait for their lands to receive a classification, say NGOs.
Under these circumstances, some simply opt to return to areas they deem to be their native homelands. The National Foundation of Indians, or Funai, is the body carrying out the mapping of indigenous lands in Brazil.
“Funai is meant to be carrying out this mapping project so that all the Guarani can live on their ancestral land. That is what the [Brazilian] constitution says, and international law. But it’s taking so long, it has come to a standstill,” Sarah Shenker of Survival International, a London-headquarter NGO working for indigenous rights, said in a telephone interview.
“Legally, according to the papers and the titles, the rancher in this case does have title to the land. But it is also the Guarani’s ancestral land, and that’s a really dangerous duplicity, the cause of which is Funai’s delay,” Shenker said.
Indigenous peoples in Brazil comprise a large number of distinct ethnic groups who inhabited the country prior to the European invasion around 1500. The Guarani are made up of an estimated 255,000, with significant populations in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.