Friday, August 9, 2013

Killings of Brazil's indigenous Indians highlight tensions of land disputes

Jonathan Watts in the Guardian (UK): Celso Rodrigues was walking by a river near his home in Mato Grosso do Sul, when he was ambushed by a gunman in a balaclava, shot with a pistol and then finished off with a rifle. It might have been just another killing in Brazil, which has one of the world's highest murder rates. But Rodrigues's case has attracted international attention because he was a member of the Guarani ethnic group, which is at the heart of a fierce national dispute over indigenous rights.

In recent months, the national guard has been dispatched, a senior official has resigned and protests from both sides – tribes and landowners – have moved closer to the office of President Dilma Rousseff. ...The killings add to a rising death toll. According to a report this month from the Missionary Indigenous Council, 452 indigenous people were murdered between 2002 and 2010, sharply up on the 167 killed during the previous eight years. More people have died in Mato Grosso do Sul – a "wild west" border region that has been colonised by ranchers and soya growers – than in any other state.

Lawyers, anthropologists and indigenous rights campaigners have sent a letter to Rousseff, reminding her that the Indians are trying to take back land that was confiscated from them and distributed to powerful families during the dictatorship era.

...There are also growing fears that indigenous groups will be further marginalised because the government is reliant on ruralista (agriculture lobby) votes in Congress and is desperate to jumpstart an economy that slumped last year.

Conflicts have intensified in many other areas over land seizures for farms, mines and infrastructure projects. The Munduruku indigenous group in Para state has threatened to go to war over government plans to build a cascade of hydroelectric dams on the Tapajós river. Many tribes are opposing the construction of Brazil's biggest dam, the Belo Monte, on a site that has been occupied by protesters several times....

Kadiwéu woman from Nabileque River, Brazil. Photo from the Boggiani collection. Published in 1892/ Dr. R. Lehmann-Nitsche

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