Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil
By Lunae Parracho
Three-year-old Sandriely has a look of suffering. She was born in the roadside camp along the same highway where her brother was run over by a truck. Her grandmother Damiana Cavanha, one of the few women chiefs among the Guarani Indians, has lost, beside her grandson, five other family members: one aunt died of poisoning from pesticides used on the neighboring sugar cane plantation, and her husband and three of their children were hit and killed by passing vehicles.
Damiana, Sandriely, and 23 other Guarani Kaiowa Indians are living in a makeshift camp along the shoulder of highway BR-463 in Mato Grosso do Sul since 2009. They settled here after their last failed attempt to take back their ancestral land, called Tekohá Apika’y. (Tekohá is loosely translated as ancestral land, and Apika’y, the name of that specific plot, means “those who wait.”) That was four years ago when they were expelled from their land by gunmen who shot one of them.
A federal prosecutor visited the camp back then, and wrote in a report, “Children, youths, adults and the elderly are subjected to degrading conditions against human dignity. The situation experienced by them is analogous to a refugee camp. They are like foreigners in their own country.”
Four years later, nothing has changed in Tekohá Apika’y. The Indians continue living squeezed between the road and a sugar cane field which is part of the land they claim. Divided into eight huts, they do not have access to drinking water and depend on meager donations of food.
Their children show obvious signs of malnutrition. They live with the constant danger of trucks rumbling closely by them loaded with Brazil’s rich agricultural commodities, some of which were harvested from plantations on the very land they are claiming as ancestral.