Maraiwatsede, Mato Grosso, Brazil
By Paulo Whitaker
Sixty years ago Brazil’s Indians had their territory demarcated, when they lived in a rich forest from which they extracted their food. Their rivers were teeming with fish, and their jungles with wild animals.
Today, in the 21st Century, many Brazilian Indians live a completely different situation, trapped in corners of their land by settlers who are large and powerful farmers that invade native territory to plant soybeans, sugar cane, and pasture to raise cattle.
We recently visited the Indian village of Maraiwatsede in the central western state of Mato Grosso, a region dominated by cattle ranches and soy farms. Little remains of the native forest that belonged to the Xavante tribe. Much of this land is not officially registered so it was invaded by ranchers trying to expand their holdings. There is even a clandestine city with nearly 1,000 inhabitants built on Indian land.
Because it is a remote location, without much policing and almost no control over borders, power and law in this region is established by those who have more money and more land. The existing law is one of the wild, with force, violence and corruption prevailing.
In the 1960’s, when the the virgin forest was still vast, the Xavante Marwaiatsede tribe lived within their territory of 165,000 hectares but were later expelled by the military dictatorship which argued that it wanted to build a highway through it. The truth was that they wanted to hand the land over for farmers to exploit it.