Brazil: Guarani leader slain by gunmen

A Guarani-Kaiowa indigenous leader was shot dead Aug. 29 at Douradina municipality in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state, one week after his community occupied part of their ancestral lands. Community leaders had warned of an imminent attack, after their encampment was surrounded by gunmen in 30 vehicles. Semião Vilhalva of the Nanderu Marangatu community was killed when the gunmen, hired by local ranchers, finally stormed the encampment—reportedly in the presence of government agents. The encampment was re-established after the attack, but suffered a second assault on Sept. 3. "They came in and began to shoot everywhere," said one Guarani leader. 

The stand-off began Aug. 22, when some 1,000 Guarani-Kaiowa occupied five ranches in the area, reportedly taking hostages who were later released. The ancestral lands of Nanderu Marangatu, one of those involved in the action, have long been occupied by a ranch owned by Roseli Silva, who is said to lead a union of area land-owners who operate their own paramilitary force with connivance of local politicians. The Guarani association Aty Guasu said: "These ranchers and politicians are encouraging hatred, violence and the killing of Guarani people. They are cruel and must be punished!"

Brazil's constitution requires the government to demarcate all indigenous territories and return them for their exclusive use, but the majority of the Guarani's land remains in the hands of ranchers. The UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples' rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has called for a halt to the land-owners' "campaign to spread psychological terror." (BBC News, Spet. 6; Survival International, Sept. 2; OHCR, Aug. 11)