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Brazil: The Cry of Resistance of the Guarani Kaiowá

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

Under yet another threat of eviction from their lands, the indigenous community Guarani-Kaiowá from Pyelito Key/Mbarakay, in the town of Iguatemi, State of Mato Grosso do Sul (MS) released a letter [pt] on 8 October 2012, that has rippled across the press and the web, as a cry of resistance when death seems to be the destiny of a whole people:

A quem vamos denunciar as violências praticadas contra nossas vidas?? Para qual Justiça do Brasil?? Se a própria Justiça Federal está gerando e alimentando violências contra nós. (…)

De fato, sabemos muito bem que no centro desse nosso território antigo estão enterrados vários os nossos avôs e avós, bisavôs e bisavós, ali estão o cemitérios de todos nossos antepassados. Cientes desse fato histórico, nós já vamos e queremos ser morto e enterrado junto aos nossos antepassados aqui mesmo onde estamos hoje, por isso, pedimos ao Governo e Justiça Federal para não decretar a ordem de despejo/expulsão, mas solicitamos para decretar a nossa morte coletiva e para enterrar nós todos aqui.

To whom are we going to denounce the violence perpetrated against our lives? To what Brazilian Justice system? If the very Federal Justice system is creating and feeding violent acts against us. (…)

In fact, we know very well that at the center of this old territory of ours are buried many of our grandfathers and grandmothers, great grandfathers and great grandmothers, there are the cemeteries of all of our ancestors. Conscious of this fact, we are now going to and want to be killed and buried along with our ancestors right here where we are today, therefore, we ask of the Government and Federal Justice system not to make an order for our eviction/expulsion, but instead we request that they decree our mass death and to bury all of us here.

Profoundly affected by the near total loss of their lands during the course of the last century, the Guaraní Kaiowá, the second largest indigenous group of Brazil, with a population of 43,000, are the constant target of attacks and victim to an alarming wave of suicides. The lands of the State of Mato Grosso do Sul are the most productive in Brazil in terms of cattle and biofuels.

Photo of 5,000 crosses planted in Brasilia on the Facebook page of Itiban Comic Shop

Photo of 5,000 crosses planted in Brasilia on the Facebook page of Itiban Comic Shop

The letter was provoked by the publishing of a dispatch by Federal Justice of Navirai, State of Mato Grosso do Sul (case number 0000032-87.2012.4.03.6006) determining the removal of the community Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay from its ancestral lands.

“Those who should die”

“We should not remain silent or unmoved in the face of this clamor by the Kaiowá Guarani community”, maintains [pt] Egon Heck, adviser to the Indigenist Missionary Council (Cimi), alluding to the historical memory documented “Y-Juca-Pirama – The Indian He Who Should Die“, a booklet published in 1973 by by bishops and missionaries working in the Amazon:

Diante do decreto de morte e extermínio surge a obstinada determinação dos povos de viver ou morrer coletivamente, conforme suas crenças, esperanças ou desespero. Esse grito certamente fará parte do manifesto “os povos indígenas, aqueles que devem viver”, apesar e contra os decretos de extermínio. (…) Não se trata de um fato isolado, mas de excepcional gravidade, diante de uma decisão de morte coletiva. Continuaremos sendo desafiados por fatos semelhantes, caso não se tome medidas urgentes de solução da questão da demarcação das terras indígenas desse povo.

In face of the decree of death and extermination arises the obstinate determination of the peoples to live or die collectively, according to their beliefs, hopes or despair. This cry certainly will be part of the manifesto “the indigenous peoples, those who should live”, in spite of and against the decrees of extermination. (…) It is not an isolated occurrence, but of exceptional gravity, in face of a decision of collective death. We will continue to be challenged by similar occurrences, if some urgent measures are not taken to solve the question of demarcation of the indigenous lands of this people.

Illustration by Odyr Bernardi published on the Facebook page Quadrinhos Guarani in response to the appeal to collective action for a comics version of the letter by the indigenous community.

Illustration by Odyr Bernardi published on the Facebook page “Quadrinhos Guarani” in response to the appeal to collective action for a comics version of the letter by the indigenous community.

Journalist Eliane Brum, reacting to the letter, wrote [pt] on her page in the magazine Época about the history of the struggle of the Guarani Kaiowá and of how “a group of the elite discards, in the name of ignorance, the immense richness contained in the languages, knowledge and world visions of the 230 indigenous ethnicities that still survive” in Brazil:

Como podemos alcançar o desespero de uma decisão de morte coletiva? Não podemos. Não sabemos o que é isso. Mas podemos conhecer quem morreu, morre e vai morrer por nossa ação – ou inação. E, assim, pelo menos aproximar nossos mundos, que até hoje têm na violência sua principal intersecção.

How can we comprehend the despair of a decision of dying together? We cannot. We do not even know what this is. But we can meet those who died, who die and who will die by our actions – or inactions. And this way, at least we can bring our worlds closer, that until today have in violence their main meeting point.

Felipe Milanez, journalist, director of documentary Toxic: Amazon, and creator of the tribute blog Luta Guarani (Guarani Struggle) [pt] has made prolific use of social networks to alert others about the cause of this people. Recently he published a video with the testimony of Elpídio Pires, an indigenous leader, about what it is like to live under death threats:


On Twitter (@felipedjeguaka), Felipe denounces [pt] the connections between local government officials and plantation owners, gunslingers, and organized crime in the Amazon”, naming names [pt] such as:

O prefeito de Paranhos levou pra cadeia Elpídio Pires. E o de Aral Moreira é um dos acusados na morte do Nisio Gomes Guarani. Prefeitos!

The mayor of Paranhos took Elpídio Pires to jail. And the mayor of Aral Moreira is one of the accused in the death of Nisio Gomes Guarani. Mayors!

Already in April he had published another video, about the death of chief Nísio Gomes, in an attack of gunmen in November 2011:

Wave of protests

On social networks, initiatives in solidarity multiplied, like the Facebook page Solidariedade ao Povo Guarani-Kaiowá [pt] (Solidarity with the Guarani-Kaiowá People) or the blog [pt] of the International Committee with the same name. A video directed by Tekoa Virtual Guarani has circulated, with messages directed to President Dilma Rousseff with the aim of raising her awareness to the violence targeted at this people.

Denunciation of death threats by an indigenous representative of the women of MS in the video Salutations Dilma! Those who are about to die salute you.

Denunciation of death threats by an indigenous representative of the women of MS in the video “Salutations Dilma! Those who are about to die salute you.”

On Facebook a group organized to perform a “symbolic collective suicide” online, based on a collective disactivation of Facebook accounts on November 2, in an event given the name “facebookicide” [pt]. An Avaaz petition, already with 24,290 signatures [translator's note 34,218 at the time of publication of the English version], appeals: “Let's stop the collective suicide of the Guarani Kaiowá indians”.

note [pt] by CIMI meanwhile criticizes the irresponsible form that the issue has been brought to light interpreted as a “supposed suicide” of the Guarani Kaiowá, echoed by citizen mobilizations and by the press, when in fact the letter speaks of a “collective death” in the “context of a struggle for land”.

Another Avaaz petition, already with over 172,000 signatures [216,872 at the time of publication of this translation], reinforces the message conveyed in the letter and launches appeal:

Exija conosco cobertura da mídia sobre o caso e ação urgente do governo DILMA e do governador ANDRÉ PUCCINELLI, para que impeçam tais matanças e junto com elas a extinção desse povo.

Join us in demanding media coverage of the case and urgent action from President DILMA and [State of Mato Grosso do Sul] governor ANDRÉ PUCCINELLI, for preventing such killings and along with them the extinction of this people.

On October 19 in Brasilia a public protest [pt] convened by CIMI, the Federal Council of Psychology (CFP), the Dhesca Platform and Global Justice, occurred in front of the National Congress. Egon Hack wrote about the mobilization and concludes [pt]:

Enquanto isso, as comunidades nas retomadas, nos acampamentos, nas aldeias, organizam a esperança, enfrentam os poderosos e lutam com as forças que lhes restam contra as políticas de morte e genocídio.

Meanwhile, the [indigenous] communities on reclaimed lands, in camps, in villages, organize hope, taking on the powerful and they struggle with the strength that they have left against the policies of death and genocide.

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

This article was written in collaboration with Diego CasaesElisa Thiago, João Miguel LimaLuís Henrique, Paula Góes and Raphael Tsavkko.

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