More than a land rights conflict?

The Guarani

The Guarani Indians in Brazil are three groups of indigenous peoples who have suffered from land rights injustice for decades in the past. Recently, it has been highlighted much more by the media as people have started to question the breaching of laws and rights by Brazilian governments and constitutions. There has been conflict over the rights of the land traditionally inhabited by the Guarani since 1960 when they got displaced to make way for cattle ranches.  Since 2009, the Guarani have been forced to live by dangerous road sides, in completely unsuitable living conditions and most vitally, away from the land that holds so much value to them.

   

Makeshift reservation at the road side.

The land in question holds much more than physical value to the Guarani, as their      culture is completely centred around the land which their ancestors have lived on for hundreds of years. They believe that their “ancestors built the base for constructing the ‘land without evil’”, which is ultimately what their culture lives for. Most of this land has been destroyed and large scale deforestation has taken place to make way for predominantly cattle ranches and sugar cane plantations. The rights of the Guarani have been actively ignored, which is not actually all that surprising due the fact that the treatment of indigenous people in Brazil has been known to be marginalising and discriminatory throughout history. Until only a couple of decades ago, Constitution Brazilian law “treated indigenous people as minors” and generally failed to visibly enforce the rights of indigenous people as they exist in writing.

The most obvious conflict here is in the valuation of the environment, differing between the importance placed on cultural and economic value. The Guarani suffer the effects of this injustice everyday as they and their homes are mistreated and destroyed in favour of other people’s interest in the land for economic reasons. The Guarani were forced into tiny and massively overcrowded reservations, with appalling living standards and little access to food. Due to this, many people have died due to malnutrition and several of the Guarani have taken their own lives due to the loss of their land on which they depended on for both physical and mental well-being. This brings up the prevalent question of who has the right to decide who land valued in this way belongs to, and how is it fair to start questioning the inhabitancy of certain groups of people who have lived there for hundreds of years?  Furthermore, how is it fair to treat any group of people in such a discriminatory way to favour economic benefit?

Although the Guarani are inherently and undeniably concerned with losing their land due to the sacred role it plays in their whole society, I aim to encourage broader thinking in which deeper meanings behind this conflict may be recognised. Do the conflicts between the indigenous communities and the state run deeper than merely valuations of the land? Are the Guarani putting up such a fight in this example to desperately gain recognition and a higher level of sovereignty within their country? If the Guarani stay true to their beliefs and end up winning the conflict over land rights, they will have diminished the injustice they were suffering and end up with a greater amount of power than they have ever had before.  Whatever the Guarani have been doing, and for whatever reason, they have been doing something right as within the last month judges in Brazil allowed them to stay on parts of their ancestral land, after bravely and desperately re-occupying it in 2011.

 

Coombes, B., Johnson, J., and Howitt, R. (2011). Indigenous geographies I: Mere resource conflicts? The complexities in Indigenous land and environmental claims. Progress in Human Geography 36 (2). 1 – 12.

O. Carvalh, G. (2000). The Politics of Indigenous Land Rights in Brazil. Bulletin of Latin American Research. 19. 461-478.

Survival International, (2010) A Survival International Report to the UN Committe. Available: http://assets.survivalinternational.org/documents/207/Guarani_report_English_MARCH.pdf. Last accessed 2nd March 2012.

Survival International, (2011) Tension mounts as Brazilian Indians retake land. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/7319 Last accessed 2nd March 2012.

Survival International, (2012) Judges allow Indians to remain on ancestral land. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/8088. Last accessed 2nd March 2012.

Survival International, The Guarani. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/guarani/fightingback#main. Last accessed 2nd March 2012.

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