A deadly attack on an indigenous community in southern Brazil highlights the authorities’ failure to protect indigenous peoples amid ongoing land conflicts, Amnesty International said in an official release last Friday.
Some 40 gunmen arrived at a Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous encampment in southern Mato Grosso do Sul state, near the border with Paraguay, early on 18 November and shot their chief Nísio Gomes, 59 before dragging him away. Gomes’ body and three indigenous children from his family abducted during the attack have not been seen since.
This is the latest in a series of attacks in recent years against Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous communities in the state who live in precarious conditions as they await government action on an effort to demarcate their ancestral territory.
“The Brazilian authorities’ failure to resolve outstanding land claims is putting indigenous communities like the Guarani-Kaiowá at extreme risk of violence and social deprivation,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Deputy Americas Program Director.
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident – for years, gunmen in the mid-west of Brazil have launched violent attacks with impunity against indigenous communities who attempt to occupy their ancestral lands”
Landowners and ranchers in Mato Grosso do Sul frequently use hired gunmen and private security companies to intimidate indigenous communities fighting for their constitutional rights to their ancestral lands. In recent weeks, gunmen repeatedly threatened the Guarani encampment’s residents and two days before the attack they reportedly threatened to take Nísio Gomes’ life.
According to eyewitnesses, on 18 November the gunmen seized Gomes at the encampment and shot him repeatedly before dragging his body along the ground and dumping it in one of their trucks. Some of the men beat Gomes’ grandson when he tried to intervene, and three other children were abducted from the encampment – a 12-year-old boy and two girls, aged five and 12.
Federal police and prosecutors, as well as the national indigenous agency FUNAI, are investigating the attack.
Some 60,000 Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous people across Brazil’s southern Mato Grosso do Sul state live in poverty in densely populated reserves as they await the demarcation of ancestral indigenous territory, mandated in the 1988 Constitution.
Frustrated by the slow progress of land demarcation, many Guarani-Kaiowá have begun reoccupying their ancestral lands in recent decades, leading to numerous forcible evictions and a rise in threats and attacks against them.
“The federal authorities must ensure the safety of the Guaiviry community and urgently address their land claims,” said Guadalupe Marengo. “In the meantime, we urge the authorities to do all they can to find Nísio Gomes’ body as well as the three abducted children, and bring their attackers to justice”.
However, the Missionary Indigenous Council, Cimi, linked to the Catholic Church, remains skeptical about any federal or state solution.
“We doubt the government has sufficient political will to act because Matto Grosso do Sul is under the control of the powerful agro-business”, said Saulo Feitosa, Cimi deputy chairman.
The land grab conflict dates back to 1960 and 1970 when the region was colonized. As the big landholdings advanced the indigenous were forced to leave and in the last eight years, 200 members have been killed by gangs presumably working on contract.