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The Guarani Indians of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul suffered a setback last week when FUNAI, the government's Indian affairs department, suddenly suspended studies being carried out to identify their territories.
FUNAI’s president Mercio Meira arrived in the state capital to be greeted by a demonstration of farmers opposed to Guarani land rights.
After a tense meeting with the state governor and rural producers' associations, Meira temporarily suspended the studies. Survival has just received reports that they have been resumed.
As ranchers and farmers whip up opinion against the Indians, Guarani leaders and organisatons have published a statement saying, ‘we do not accept any postponement of the identification and demarcation of the Guarani tekohas (traditional lands)'.
The Guarani’s struggle is supported by a group of organisations that have signed a document entitled, ‘Stop the Genocide: For the Land and Life of Guarani Kaiowa people’, to be delivered to the Brazilian President Lula da Silva.
The Guarani suffer from acute land shortages, and have been fighting for decades to win back their land. With the rapid expansion of sugar cane and soya plantations, they are being squeezed onto tiny reservations or forced to camp by the side of highways. The result is malnutrition, violence and alcoholism.
Many Guarani end up working in slave-like conditions in the surrounding plantations. Others end up behind bars, accused of petty crimes, often with no interpreters or proper legal representation.
Profoundly affected by lack of land, the Guarani suffer levels of suicide unequalled in South America. In the last twenty years, over 500 Guarani have killed themselves.