Nov 29, 2017

Brazil: Guaraní Protest Against Poor Living Conditions and Lack of Land Rights

Members of the Brazilian indigenous Guaraní community took part in peaceful protests against privatisation of state parks. Their demonstrations were also calling attention to their dire living conditions. For instance, Guarani living in São Paulo are confined to two tiny villages the size of four football pitches. Land is a vital part of the Guaraní culture and tradition, however their current condition means that they are slowly losing touch with their cultural past by not being able to utilise their land for fishing, gathering and planting. They are confined to a part of São Paulo where children play amongst dog excrement abandoned by people from wealthier neighbourhoods. The biggest force against increase land rights for the Guaraní is the state government

The following article is from The Guardian

No one took much notice when a group of 150 disgruntled Guaraní tribespeople took control of the highest point in São Paulo, the peak of Jaraguá. The takeover, just before 4am on 13 September, was met with no resistance: one group seized the park gates and closed access, while another surrounded the TV antennas and allowed the security guard to leave at the end of his shift.

For two days the Guaraní sat in the same place that their ancestors had fled from slavery in the construction of the city, more than four centuries ago. They claimed that more of the land surrounding the peak should be theirs and want to stop privatisation of state parks – but no one was listening.

That was, until they turned off the TV signal. Reports differ on how many channels went off-air, but when a large number of Greater São Paulo residents turned on their televisions that morning, expecting the usual diet of daytime chat shows and rolling news, all they got was static.

The Guaraní people of Jaraguá are squeezed into the smallest parcel of indigenous land in Brazil, two tiny villages, Tekoá Pyau and Tekoá Ytu, in the far north of Latin America’s largest city. About 700 people live in tiny dirt-floor houses on an area the size of four football fields.

There are a few trees and a polluted stream, and children play among excrement from dogs abandoned by people from wealthier neighbourhoods. The tang of burning waste hangs in the air.

“People look and think we live in a favela, but we don’t live like this out of choice,” says Thiago Henrique Karaí Djekupe, one of the leaders of the Guaraní community.

The Guaraní people are spread over five countries. In Brazil, there are 85,000 spread across eight states. Those inside São Paulo’s city limits would love to live like their relatives in other areas, but are constricted by the small plot.

“We want to live from planting, gathering, fishing – but the area of the village does not allow this,” says Vitor Fernandes. “To preserve our culture, we need more land.”

They work hard to maintain their traditions. The local school employs indigenous teachers and lessons in Guaraní are given, unlike in any public schools in Brazil. There is a village prayer house and many residents use traditional medicine, with local plants instead of prescription drugs. The children walk freely around the village, secure in the knowledge that the whole community is looking out for them.

But striking the right balance between traditional and modern is not easy. “When we go to the city barefoot and semi-naked, non-indigenous people are critical,” says Danilo Benites Uiramiri. “But when we wear branded clothing, like Nike sneakers, they are just as critical … [seeing it as a] loss of indigenous identity.”

Thiago, who grew up in the village before the local school opened, says he was the target of constant prejudice during his childhood. “I suffered a lot of physical aggression and was bullied at school,” he recalls. “In subjects featuring indigenous people, they are all pictured naked, like savages, as people who just fight and make war. Our classmates messed a lot with us because of that.”

When he got a job in a local bakery his colleagues were just as bad. “I was told not to bring the lice of the ‘little Indians’ to work.”

The Guaraní thought their situation was set to improve. After 11 years of research, the National Indian Foundation (Funai) in 2013 authorised the expansion of their land in Jaraguá to an area of 536 hectares – 315 times larger than its current size.

But in August the federal government blocked the move due to the fact that the São Paulo state authorities had not been involved. Many saw this as the first step backwards in the demarcation of indigenous land since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985.

The main force against increasing the Guaraní’s land in São Paulo is the state government, which runs the Jaraguá park. State justice secretary Márcio Fernando Elias Rosa is calling for a “compromise” between the proposed expansion and the existing villages, and wants to see Guaraní resettled outside the park.

Meanwhile, São Paulo state is trying to privatise Jaraguá park. A law passed in 2016 could see private companies allowed to exploit the area for logging and tourism for 30 years.

Without the expansion of their lands, the Guaraní say their living standards will only get worse – and they are afraid of losing the few rights and the land they still hold. The Guaraní see a link between the refusal to grant an expansion and the proposed privatisation, even if the state government denies it.

“Nowadays, our children see a police car and ask if they will have to leave the village,” says Thiago. “We live in a difficult situation, and our whole community is in depressed. Living on such small lands removes our right to survive.”