Guarani Indian murdered by gunmen

June 29, 2005

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A Guarani Indian was shot dead early on Sunday morning, 26 June, by heavily armed gunmen on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Four other Guarani, including a pregnant woman, were wounded and hospitalised. The Indians were attacked only hours after they had moved back on to their land, from which they were evicted 30 years ago by a cattle rancher. Two Indians were kidnapped by the gunmen but released later. One of the Indians' lorries was set on fire and destroyed.

The murdered man, Dorival Benites aged 26, was part of a group of Guarani Indians who have been trying to recover their land for years. The community, known as Sombrerito, was expelled in 1975 and dispersed into several large Guarani 'reservations' where suicides, starvation and violence are rife. For years they have pressed for their land to be returned to them. The government Indian affairs department, FUNAI, carried out technical studies of the area but has failed to officially ratify it.

The situation is reported to be very tense. A group of ranchers and their gunmen have surrounded the Indians' camp and are preventing people from entering or leaving. In a show of support for the Sombrerito people, the neighbouring Guarani of Porto Lindo territory have blockaded the main road and say they will not open it until the authorities guarantee the safety of Sombrerito and allow the Indians to remain on their land. A Guarani spokesman said today, ’We won't give up the fight for our land rights.'

Survival's director Stephen Corry said, ’The Brazilian authorities' failure to recognise Guarani land rights has led to shocking violence and one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. They must act now to demarcate all Guarani land and bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Dorival.'

Dorival Benites was buried on Monday, outside Sombrerito. His family wanted to bury him on their own land, but were afraid for their lives.

Photos and footage available. For more information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]