Biofuel Industry Exterminating Guarani Kaiowá people in South Brazil
By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | OCTOBER 16, 2012
In how many ways can someone describe murder, corruption, crime, collusion, complicity to commit murder, thuggery, injustice? I struggled greatly to title this article because one or two lines cannot describe the shame I felt — even though I am not Brazilian — to see what the government of Brazil is doing to its native people. As you read this article, people from the Guarani Kaiowá indigenous tribe are being displaced from their lands illegally both by Brazilian Military Brigades as well as thugs hired by influential land owners in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
Although the prince of ‘social justice’, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, guaranteed the people of Brazil that he was in power to help the neediest, it was Lula himself who signed away the sovereignty of the country by allowing sugar cane multinational corporations to grab extensive portions of land all over the country in an effort to turn Brazil into the newest monoculture slave camp. In 2007 Lula da Silva signed an agreement with George W. Bush to boost biofuel production in Brazil. That day, Lula made it very clear who he really worked for. “This agreement may be a new starting point to the auto industry in Brazil and the world. It is a new beginning for the fuel industry in the whole world. I’d even say that this accord represents a new era for humanity.”
Before and after the signing of the agreement, all mainstream media began a conscious campaign to sell the public the idea that biofuels was the way to go. Like ignorant intellectual prostitutes, Brazil’s public figures appeared on TV programs and government ads preaching to the population the greatness of ethanol. From sports to entertainment shows, the prostitute media and their figures wrapped a green tape around the Brazilians eyes. From Gugu to Luciano Huck, every single known pop head took time from their TV shows to lie with a straight face saying that the biofuel industry would bring mountains of cash for everyone. But things did not turn out as they were told by these intellectual, ignorant prostitutes.
The only highlight of the birth of the biofuel industry in Brazil however, was the immediate displacement of some 40,000 indigenous people from the Guarani Kaiowá tribe, who now live on 1 percent of what used to be their land. The eviction from their natural habitat is endangering their very way of life. The Guarani can no longer plant food, fish or hunt for a living.
In the best case scenario, the Guarani Kaiowá are kicked out of their land in Mato Grosso do Sul by the Military Brigade every time a court determines that they have to vacate the land where them and their ancestors lived throughout all their lives. In the worst case scenario, heavily armed thugs shoot at their camps in an attempt to kill tribe leaders, so that the rest of the Kaiowá stop opposing their eviction. Nowadays, the indigenous live in a small area located to the south of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where large sugar cane plantations are erected around their small villages.
The dark side of the so-called green revolution, which has Brazil as the top producer of ethanol from sugar cane, has very little of that green, if any at all. Besides causing the illegal eviction of the Guarani Kaiowá, the plantation of sugar endangers the life of numerous species of plants and animals, whose habitat is being polluted every day by the smog, and sewage waters and waste materials generated by the plantation, burning and harvest of the sugar cane. Additionally, the Guarani Kaiowá have gone from being land owners to turning into land slaves. Given their inability to have enough land to develop their subsistence way of life, the Kaiowá are now slaves of the very same corporations that explore their land to produce ethanol.
The Guarani have to travel for hours to get to the plantations and work under the scorching sun only to receive miserable wages that aren’t even enough to survive. In an attempt to alleviate their lack of food, the Brazilian government now delivers basic grains so the Guarani Kaiowá can at least feed themselves. But the amount of food delivered is not enough. In fact, several Kaiowá indigenous children have died of malnutrition in the last few years due to the lack of decent quality food. On top of stealing their land, the corporations that now occupy Guarani Kaiowá lands illegally hire underage labor. They provide the children, who are as young as 14, fake identification cards with fake birth dates and ages.
The occupation of Brazilian lands by multinational corporations is not new. They started arriving in Brazil a while ago, after the government offered them tax exemptions and all the facilities it can come up with so that they ‘invest’ in the rising South American jewel. In the northeast, powerful individuals and corporations have acquired large portions of land to plant genetically modified corn, soy and wheat. Today, 76 to 80 percent of soy produced and consumed in Brazil is genetically modified. Much of this soy is exported to the European Union, but a lot of it is used for local consumption. As reported in numerous occasions, the environmental contamination with genetically modified organisms, due to consumption or the pollution of the air and the soil, has exponentially increased the incidence of disease.
In the case of the Guarani Kaiowá, they also suffer from the pollution caused by the massive plantation and harvest of sugar cane. Their land, rivers and air is heavily contaminated by this activity, which uses large amounts of water taken from local rivers and wells that once belonged to the Guarani Kaiowá. In Mato Grosso do Sul, the ancient tribe is public enemy number one. Even the high courts have ruled against their right to live where they’ve always lived. During the production of the “clean” fuel, the Federal Public Prosecutor of the state often sues the owners of the large plants because of their use of child and slave labor. But at the same time, law enforcement officials evict the indigenous people as often as those prosecutors rule in their favor.
With armed police on one side evicting them from their land and heavily armed thugs killing tribe leaders and shooting at women and children on the other, some Guarani Kaiowá have requested that they be put to death and buried next to their parents and relatives in what used to be their land. In a letter sent to the government, the Guarani Kaiowá plead for mercy and decry the violence with which they are treated by authorities and privately armed men. “… it is evident to us that the very action of the Federal Court generates and increases the violence against our lives, ignoring our rights to survive on the riverside and around our traditional territory Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay. We understand clearly that this decision of the Federal Court of Navaraí-MS is part of the action of genocide and historical extermination of indigenous people, native of Mato Grosso do Sul, ie, the action itself of the Federal Court is violating and exterminating our lives.”
According to the Guarani Kaiowá, the Federal Court of Mato Grosso do Sul is fueling the violence against the tribe. “We have evaluated our current situation and conclude that we will all die very soon,” reads the letter. “We camped here 50 meters from the riverside where already there were four deaths, two by suicide and two due to beating and torture of gunmen’s farmers.” Before ending the letter, the Guarani Kaiowá made it clear that the only way to survive is to be left alone on their land, which is where they can go about their lives with dignity and peace. Otherwise, they said, the state of Mato Grosso do Sul should simply officially declare their demise and their extinction.
“The ethanol industry and sugar cane industry are both booming sectors. We are going through a revolution,” says Geraldine Kutis, the International advisor for UNICA, the largest association of sugar manufacturers that operates in the sugar cane, ethanol business in Brazil. As many other endeavors, the ethanol industry is managed from Sao Paulo, the commercial capital of the country. As explained by Ms. Kutis, the aim is to expand the green fuel fever around the world. That is why UNICA already has an office in Sao Paulo and Brussels and intends to open a new one in Beijing, China. The association also has a fourth office in Washington, DC, where it lobbies for the ethanol industry.
The government of Brazil has promoted and adopted policies that stimulate the production of sugar cane and ethanol, by giving incentives to large corporations and power groups to invest in the plantation and production. As Brazil becomes an attractive destination for foreign investment that wants to get away from the stock market and financial speculation, the production of ethanol and other commodities is shooting for the stars. “The sky is the limit,” says Kutis. But at what price? Brazilian environmentalists already blame sugar cane plantation and processing for the pollution of air and water resources around the country. According to Jeronimo Porto, a union leader in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, people who make a living off the land are simply soaking in a cocktail of pesticides and herbicides.
“Our air, our environment here is heavily polluted,” he says. Porto asserts that the arrival of new companies that open new processing plants as well as the expansion of sugar cane fields are compromising the health and well-being of the people. “It is terrible when sewage flows into the river,” says Porto. “The waste waters contaminate the river, kill the fish and causes a truly ecological disaster,” he insisted.
“The river is Earth’s blood, just as the blood we have in our veins. Without blood, no one survives. There is simply no way to survive without the river and without the forest,” says a Guarani Kaiowá leader. But water is not the only blood flowing through the land of Mato Grosso do Sul. Armed mercenaries hired by private interests have mercilessly fired shots at Guarani people. Some of the leaders have been killed, while women and children were wounded. In an instance, a bullet penetrated the back of a Guarani woman and exited through her breast, in what Roberto Martins, a tribe leader called a miraculous outcome. “Two gunmen aimed at us with powerful weapons,” he said. “They could have killed all of us.”
Most of the Guarani lands are towards the bottom of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, and it is precisely there where the new plantations of sugar cane are appearing. “This means we will all be surrounded by gigantic sugar cane fields, and it will make it harder for the Guarani people to be able to plant what they eat,” says Antonio Brandt, professor at Mato Grosso do Sul University. The inability to plant their lands with the food they need to survive has made the Guarani Kaiowá almost fully dependent on the government to survive. Around 90 percent of them now receive food from shipments sent to them. But this aid is insufficient.
“Without land, the indian cannot live,” says Carlito de Oliveira, another tribe leader. “These food baskets are not going to keep coming forever. If we cannot plant what we eat, it will be very difficult to survive.”
For more information on the dire situation of the Guarani Kaiowá, watch the short film The Dark Side of Green.
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