Fazenda Buriti is one of 62 farms in the state that the indigenous people have overrun, part of their revolt against the government from the Amazon region to the southern Pampas area. They are fighting for their land, protecting the borders of their reservations, resisting the construction of hydroelectric power plants in their regions and protesting against the advance of the agricultural industry, which is destroying their homeland.
The occupations are a reaction to Brazil’s ruthless treatment of its indigenous peoples. Thirteen years ago, the government promised to turn over the ranch’s 145 square kilometers (56 square miles) to indigenous tribes. But the farmer used legal maneuvers to delay the transfer — until the indigenous people lost patience. With the help of Facebook, they gathered together more than 1,000 members of their tribe from the surrounding region and invaded the farm in the early morning of May 15, wielding homemade explosives, swinging wooden clubs and waving spears. Private security guards fired into the air, but they were vastly outnumbered. Together with the rancher’s wife, family and members of the staff, they took refuge in the house. After tough negotiations, the owners were allowed to leave. The police moved in with live ammunition 15 days later. One of the occupiers was shot to death and another one was wounded, but the indigenous people are not giving up.
Since then, the Terena have built a village on the grounds of Fazenda Buriti. They are farming the fields, planting manioc and corn; some are driving around in the farmer’s tractors. At night, they sleep in huts made of wood and plastic sheeting. “Our reservations are too small,” says Chief Alberto. “If we don’t get more land, my people will go hungry.”
That some farmers will stop at nothing is well known. Some 564 members of indigenous tribes were murdered in Brazil in the last decade, including 319 in Mato Grosso do Sul alone. In February, three farm guards shot and killed a 15-year-old boy, merely because he wanted to fish on the estate.
The government, meanwhile, has capitulated to the farm lobby. When President Dilma Rousseff visited Mato Grosso do Sul in April, the farmers booed her. Soon afterwards, she completed a radical shift on indigenous policy by freezing the planned reservation expansions. She also plans to amend the approval process. The National Indian Foundation, FUNAI — a group run by anthropologists — is currently in charge of drawing the new borders. But Rousseff now wants to consult with other organizations, including EMBRAPA, an agricultural research institute affiliated with white farmers.
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