Brazilian Army Called To Keep The Peace After Death Of Indigenous Leader


Members of the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe carried a coffin on Tuesday to protest against the killing of Semião Vilhalva, a leader of the tribe. PHOTO: UESLEI MARCELINO/REUTERS


Member of the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe was killed amid a land dispute near the border with Paraguay

SÃO PAULO—Brazil has ordered its Army to keep order in a town on the nation’s western soy-growing frontier after a land dispute turned deadly, the latest clash between farmers and indigenous people in the South American nation.

Authorities said Semião Vilhalva, a leader of the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe, was killed on Saturday during a conflict with men who sought to remove him and hundreds of other tribe members from two of several farms that the tribe occupied earlier last week near Brazil’s border with Paraguay in Mato Grosso do Sul state. Mr. Vilhalva was shot dead, activists said. The Federal Police are investigating the case.

The owner of the farm where Mr. Vilhalva was found dead told local reporters that the men who sought to expel the Indians weren’t armed. The owner wasn’t immediately reachable for further comment.

Land disputes between Indians and farmers are increasing on Brazil’s far-flung frontiers, as a decade-old push to demarcate more big reservations for Brazil’s growing population of indigenous people meets resistance from farmers working the lands, in some cases for generations. In many instances, legal cases to resolve the disputes stall in Brazil’s circuitous and slow courts.

Occurring in remote regions where law enforcement is scarce, the disputes can turn violent when opposing sides lose faith in the country’s institutions to resolve the conflicts and take matters into their own hands, observers say.

“The excessive delays in the demarcation of traditional lands … and the violence indigenous people suffer for their complaints, are among the principal reasons for violent conflicts,” Amerigo Incalcaterra, a regional United Nations human-rights official, said in a statement.

In 2005, Brazil’s Indian protection agency declared 9,300 hectares (22,971 acres) near the Mato Grosso do Sul town of Antônio João a Guarani-Kaiowá reservation. But farmers working part of the land appealed the move, arguing the land was farmed continuously in many cases since 19th-century pioneers settled the region. Indian agency lawyers contend that land titles dating to that era were nullified by a 1988 constitution granting broader rights to indigenous peoples.

The legal case, which is before the Supreme Court, has sat unresolved for a decade. Adding to the pressure, the population of the Guarani people is outgrowing the relatively small reservations they were granted in the mid- and early 20th-century—often squalid camps with poor access to health and other services.

Last week, Guarani-Kaiowá groups occupied several of the farms to pressure for more land and a resolution to the demarcation case, authorities said. Days later, farmers returned to two of the farms to dislodge the protesting Indians. The conflict in which Mr. Vilhalva died ensued, authorities said. Military and justice ministry officials are now seeking to broker a peace.

Brazil has one of the world’s largest populations of indigenous peoples, and conflicts between settlers and tribes are an undercurrent in its history. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, government efforts to develop the vast and sparsely populated Amazon region put settlers and isolated tribes in contact with each other.


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