By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Indigenous activists have occupied a number of ranches in Mato Grosso do Sul state, located in Brazil’s Center-West region, in a long-running dispute over territory they consider their ancestral homelands. Terena Indians recaptured the Buriti and Esperança ranches on Friday in the Sidrolândia area, some 70km (43.5 miles) from Campo Grande, after first occupying the land on May 15th.
A high court order handed down on Sunday said the group, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), had 48 hours to leave the ranch in a peaceful manner or else face a fine of R$1 million. FUNAI has appealed the order and said the activists will not be leaving the sites.
Around 1,000 tribesmen are thought to have taken the Buriti fazenda, Globo News estimates; FUNAI was unable to give details on the number of its members involved in the occupations.
The Buriti and Esperança ranches were reoccupied on Friday in protest over the death of Oziel Gabriel, 36, who died in a confrontation with Civil and Military Police, which were evicting the Indians following a two-week occupation of the site by the group.
Fourteen Indians and four police officers were also reportedly injured in the incident, in which activists reportedly attacked police with bows and arrows, as well as a club and at least one firearm. The situation is said to remain tense, although there have been no further reports of violence since the group reoccupied the sites.
The Buriti ranch is owned by former deputy Ricardo Bacha, but the area itself is claimed by the Indians and has been the subject of a legal dispute for the past thirteen years.
In 2004, the Federal Court ruled in favor of the farmers, but in 2006, following an appeal, the area was judged to belong to the Indians by the Regional Federal Court (TRF), and the Ministry of Justice recognized it as such in 2010. However, recognition of the area – which covers 172km2 (66.4 sq miles) – had not been approved by President Dilma Rousseff, and a further appeal in June 2012 resulted again in the farmers’ favor.
Last October, a group of Guarani-Kaiowá Indians also fought eviction in Mato Grosso do Sul, saying they would rather die than be forced from their native territory.
The activists from indigenous groups say they are regularly threatened with violence by farmers in the state, one of Brazil’s biggest soy producers, to force them off land which the Indians consider their ancestral homeland.
The number of people in Brazil murdered over land and environmental disputes rose by over ten percent in 2012.
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