The resistance of the Kaiowá Guaraní

In the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso do Sul, the indigenous people’s truth is still being denied at gunpoint by the landowners’ truth, with the help of the State. Español. Português.

Elaine Tavares
20 October 2015

Occupation of the Paulist Avenue and Augusta Street in defense of the rights of the Guarani Kaiowa that live in Mato Grosso do Sul. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I watched a video the other day in which a lady landowner in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, said that her family owned those lands for the simple reason that they were its “tamers”. This was a funny testimony: the lady claimed that her forebears had conquered the area so that they could build their houses and start their crops. What did she mean? Taming the place implies clearing it, subduing, civilizing. This is what the dictionary says. Now, you only make tame or civilize someone. And who was to be tamed? The Indians. This is a digest of the comic opera starring the landlords of Mato Grosso do Sul. The lady herself confirmed that the land that is now occupied by her and her family belonged originally to the Guaraní.

The landlady’s speech is quite enlightening for understanding the situation of the Kaiowá Guaraní people in the region. To her and her friends, the Indians are mostly a nuisance, a disturbance on their nicely drawn map. If one day whites invaded the land and cleared the Indians out, now they should not come back claiming ownership over anything. They were destroyed, they should leave.

This is the landlords’ truth. They allow themselves to think that the massacre of the Indians of the past was a good thing, a step in the evolution of the world. But the lady in the video forgets that when her ancestors "tamed" the region, many of the people who lived there did not die. They fled, driven by violence and at gunpoint.

To the indigenous peoples, however, the land is not a piece of ground that can be sold or tamed. It is a living part of their culture. So, even after being forced to flee or go into hiding, the Indians will stay close to it and eventually return, claiming their right to live in the territory they originally inhabited.

This is the truth of the native peoples. They insist on their right to stay in their land. They demand a portion of the land, not all of it. Only a decent space in which to experience their culture.

But human history is the history of the class struggle, as someone famously said. And in that battle, the ruling class is the one that has the weapons and the State. The oppressed have only their bodies and the willingness to live in justice. So, apparently, there is no way out. Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said: "The world of the happy is quite different from that of the unhappy". So, how do we get these worlds to dialogue? If the State was anchored in justice, it would be responsible for ensuring that these two truths can be discussed serenely. But no. In the case of the conflicts in Mato Grosso do Sul, the State keeps on bringing in weapons and protection for the "happy" landlords’ side.

On the morning of September 18, the people of the tekoá (dwelling) Pyelito Kue / Mbarakay, in the municipality of Iguatemi, suffered violence once more, the last of many times since the Indians decided to reclaim their rightful place. Armed gunmen marched through the Kaiowá Guaraní settlement, shouting that they would all be killed. According to a report by the Indigenous Missionary Council, ten Indians were injured in the attack, including a pregnant woman and a shaman. Rubber bullets, which are supposedly restricted to the police, and also firearms were used. Indigenous leaders have been reporting that the Department of Border Operations (DOF) has been ostentatiously conducting 'visits' to the camp for several days, taking away people’s stuff. They have also reported that the gunmen beat a woman a few days ago, an attack that has been confirmed by FUNAI (the National Indian Foundation, the Brazilian government body responsible for establishing and carrying out policies relating to indigenous peoples).

Amazement prevails at the Pyelito Kue tekoá. Although the process of systematic aggression against them began a long time ago, in 2012 they produced a moving document addressed to world public opinion, saying they were all ready and willing to die in defense of the right to stay in the land that is rightfully theirs. This cry of the Kaiowá Guaraní and the ensuing mobilization resulted in the occupation of the 2,000 hectare Cambará Farm, of which they claimed only 100 hectares. Since then, harassment and violence against them has been unrelenting. Gunmen are roaming, intimidating people, causing firearm casualties, and the Brazilian State is not taking any action.

The area claimed by the indigenous people has been declared a “traditional territory” by FUNAI. But since the State is not taking any steps to demarcate the land, it is in fact being complicit in the violence against the Kaiowá Guaraní. The government prefers to keep them on the road, in extreme poverty and abandonment. The only way for the Indians to enforce their rights is thus through the occupation of the places that were historically theirs, and face the landowners’ fury and weaponry. Mato Grosso do Sul is a region where the law is dictated at gunpoint. And the indigenous peoples are not the ones who carry the guns.

The painful resistance of the Kaiowá Guaraní people takes up very little space in newspapers and on television. The interest system that rules the country is not keen on people being literate in historical truth. How could they possibly explain the fact that landowners can kill and maintain private militias outside the law? How could they explain that the law does not reach the landowners? It is preferable to keep on transmitting the old discourse according to which the indigenous peoples hinder progress, should be integrated into the white culture, and should stop disturbing those who want to produce. It is preferable to create stereotypes and prejudices so as to maintain the image that Indians are wild and lazy. So that, when one of them falls dead, no one will be shocked.

Still, deep in the heartland of Brazil, people keep on resisting. In Mato Grosso do Sul, the Kaiowá Guaraní keep up the promise they made in 2012: they will fight to the last man and the last woman.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: are we going to let the slaughter be?

We must each use our own tools for the struggle. Mine is the word, and everyone can chose his or hers. What we cannot do is to allow the ongoing slaughter. We must stop it. The State must be pressured into carrying out the demarcation of the lands immediately, thus guaranteeing the Kaiowá Guaraní their rightful space. A small space in the middle of the large estates. The part that belongs to them.

This article was previously published by: Asuntos del Sur

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