Following some aggressive measures against indigenous peoples in Brazil, the Brazilian government has decided to suspend the delivery of staple foods to numerous Guarani and Kaiowá communities in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. In the government’s view, FUNAI – the responsible organ for protecting indigenous communities in the country – should not provide food to people “illegally invading” lands.
The truth is, the government has not demarcated and homologated the indigenous territories ancestrally occupied by the Guarani and Kaiowá – a constitutional obligation of the Brazilian state. This has generated a vicious circle: Without access to their territories and demarcation, the Guarani and Kaiowá live on land under permanent dispute and simply cannot produce their own food. As there is no regularization of their land rights, the access to food assistance programs is constantly jeopardized.
Staple foods on a tightrope
In 2013, FIAN International and FIAN Brazil, with the support of CIMI and Aty Guasu – the Guarani and Kaiowá political assembly – conducted a socio-economic and nutritional survey in three emblematic communities of Guarani and Kaiowá, namely Guaiviry, Ypo'i and Kurusu Ambá. The results demonstrated a clear violation of the human right to adequate food and nutrition of the communities. In all three communities, all households were in some degree of food and nutritional insecurity – affecting children too – at the time of the survey. This situation has worsened since then, with no further territories being demarcated and homologated by the government.
In 2017 and 2018, complaints were already made about the reduction and suspension of staple food provided to the Guarani and Kaiowá. FIAN International’s office in Brazil also contacted the responsible bodies and requested the necessary measures, so that the distribution of staple foods could be resumed as soon as possible, in order to avoid further aggravation of the situation. For some periods the delivery has been normalized, but always under the threat of being suspended.
In recent field visits, indigenous representatives of the Guarani and Kaiowá have reported difficulties physically and financially accessing food, especially to adequate food. In addition to the lack of income, the lands they legitimately occupy are insufficient for planting. In cases where there is enough land, the extensive use of agrochemicals and pesticides in monocultures prevent them from growing food in their traditional ways. In addition, the Guarani and Kaiowá communities are targets of big landowners and their militias – which act with support of the state police. In many instances, this leads to the assassination, as well as criminalization and arbitrary imprisonment of indigenous leaders.
A kind of slow genocide
The Brazilian government’s decision to suspend the delivery of staple foods to Guarani and Kaiowá indigenous peoples violates several national and international human rights standards. Authorities and representatives of indigenous communities have been discussing strategies towards the fulfillment of the right to adequate food in the region. Yet, there is no progression but regression.
“Instead of solving the problem by demarcating our territory, the government threatens us with eviction, as well as with the suspension of staple foods, social assistance, and everything possible. It's inhumane what they're doing to us, we need and depend on the land, we need to feed ourselves to survive," says Guarani and Kaiowá leader Elizeu.
As illustrated in exclusive interviews with Elizeu Lopes and others Guarani and Kaiowá leaders and representatives in Mato Grosso do Sul under the initiative Tekoha is Life, the communities live under deplorable circumstances.
Supporting the representative body of the Guarani and Kaiowá, the Aty Guasu, FIAN International has submitted complaints to UN Special Rapporteurs and Commissioners of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to take urgent action. At the time of publishing this press release, some deliveries have been resumed due to civil society’s mobilization. Yet, they could be cancelled at any point, as has happened previously.
“The government and racism are literally driving the Guarani and Kaiowá and other indigenous peoples to face hunger and live in a situation of constant food insecurity. How will they survive? What kind of protection will they have against external crises like the Coronavirus? This is like a slow genocide,”Felipe Bley-Folly, Justiciability and Indigenous Peoples Coordinator at FIAN International, concludes.
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Watch Guarani and Kaiowá leaders speak of their situation.