SEATTLE, Washington — Known for its expansive Amazon rainforest, Brazil stands as one of the most popular areas of Latin America. Every year, thousands of tourists travel to Brazil to see the spectacular views and experience the rich history and culture of the area. While Brazil is without a doubt geographically beautiful, it continuously faces conflict with its indigenous population, the Guarani people, for land and labor rights.
Since 1537, when the Guarani first had contact with the Europeans, the indigenous population had suffered through subjugation and marginalization in hegemonic systems. Today, the Indigenous community of Brazil stands at 250,000, which is less than 0.2% of the Brazilian population. Brazil has disregarded the rights of the Guarani people by continuously denying their land entitlement. The situation of the Guarani people shows how those with power circumvented the laws that protect the indigenous land rights in Brazil.
The appropriation of Indigenous land in Brazil began in the colonial era when Spanish colonialists territorialized land from Indigenous communities and established a network of indigenous settlements called Reductions or “Reducciones”. Since these beginnings, governments have often ignored Indigenous land rights in Brazil. Indigenous communities in Brazil have been continuously pushed out of their land towards marginalized areas of society.
Land Squatters Protected by Law
For years, the Guarani people experienced non-Indian squatters occupying their land. Government agencies and settlements such as the old Indian Protective Service protected these squatters. In 1980, when the National Indian Foundation attempted to reidentify and formally recognize the land for Guarani people, squatters continued to invade Indian land and filed lawsuits that often went against the rights of Indians.
The New Brazilian Constitution and Broken Promises
In 1988, when the new Brazilian constitution was approved, Article 67, the Temporary Constitutional Provision act, ensured “that within five years the whole process of legalization of indigenous territories should have to be completed.” Territorial claims were supposed to be returned to the Guarani people from invading farmers by 1993. However, evidence shows that the government did not keep this promise. In 2007, the Brazilian government yet again signed an agreement with the Guarani people “to speed up the recognition of the Guarani’s land rights in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul.” However, the government has yet to carry out this agreement and still fails to recognize Indigenous land.
The Continuation of Indigenous Reserves
As a solution for the indigenous land conflict, the Brazilian government established state-owned reservations that the indigenous communities could use. While the government claimed the reserves were stable, there has been much criticism against the establishments. Reserves were often located in areas where indigenous people didn’t originally reside. Furthermore, the land was divided into private plots, which went against some Indigenous traditions, and the accommodation of multiple ethnic groups in the same reserve has resulted in disputes.
Some reports claimed that “Levels of violence and crime in the reserves are directly or indirectly related to growing frustration with persistent abandonment, racism and discrimination.” Because of the organizational issues of reserves, many Kaiowa-Guarani people moved to live in roadside encampments. They have exposed themselves to harsh conditions with the hopes of one day moving to reclaimed areas.
The Guarani People are fighting back
After years of frustration over unkept promises and continuous subjugation, Indigenous leaders have taken it upon themselves to fight back for their land. Through what the Guarani call retomadas, literally meaning “take back,” leaders organize “a group to take action and evict the actual invaders – the current farmers – and attempt to self-demarcate their legitimate lands.” Along with retomadas, another way the Guarani people have mobilized their resistance is by promoting their mission to the global community. Through academics, art, protest and organization, the Guarani have taken an international platform to bring visibility to their resistance.
Reports have found that the Guarani people are suffering some of the worst situations of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. They suffer from “high rates of suicide, malnutrition, unfair imprisonment, alcoholism” and racism. The Guarani have had little government assistance and have had to survive through their own means. One way to alleviate this situation would be the reappropriation and recognition of indigenous land rights in Brazil. With this establishment, the Guarani people could exercise their right of practicing their own culture in a space that is not constantly being extracted.
-Ana Paola Asturias