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Driven out of their land by ethanol producers, 300 Guarani have died in the past ten years. She has the sad smile of those who turned their life into a battle. Under her proudly worn Indian headdress, she lets her deep black eyes pierce, filled with rage, anger and frustration.
Valdelice Veron, one of the leaders of the Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous people, was invited to speak at the “Summit of Conscience on climate” which took place on Tuesday, July 21st in Paris. At 37, the fighter agreed to leave Brazil for the first time in her life to testify to the suffering of her people, carried by the “hope that someone here will hear my people’s cry and decide to react”. But before coming up to the stand at the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, she had to leave Mato Grosso do Sul in the Amazon, and break through the barrage held by “armed bandits”. As henchmen in charge of chasing the Indians away from their land, they are paid by big landowners exploiting the forest. According to her, the worst means are used to force the Indians to leave their land, from murders to rape and kidnapping. Nearly 300 Guarani-Kaiowá were killed in ten years.
Kept away from their land, the Guarani, who live on, feed on, and cure themselves with what the land provides them, are sentenced to misery. Some have been put and are confined in reserves, forced to work in sugarcane plantations for a miserable pay, or sometimes even just food rations.
The French group Louis Dreyfus Commodities, second biggest ethanol producer in Brazil, employs 20 000 people in the country, and had to explain the poor working conditions of its workforce in 2009. Valdelice Veron and her peers refused to be put in reserves. “From now on, we will not leave our land anymore, whatever attacks we have to face, she assured. We will mark down our territory with our own blood if we have to”. In the past decade, several hundreds of them have been reoccupying the breeders’ and planters’ lots to see their ancestral land returned to them. Valdelice Veron’s father, Marcos, the chief of all chiefs, the great Guarani-Kaiowá Cacique, was murdered in 2003, tortured to death by way of revenge.
In the heart of the war between the 45 000 Guarani-Kaiowá and the great landowners asking for land to extend their activity, is bioethanol, of which Brazil is the first exporter in the world. This bioethanol can be derived from sugarcane, the culture of which is one of the major causes of deforestation in the country. “Our territories are being destroyed by greedy men”, accused Valdelice Veron on the stand at the ESEC, evoking the crime of “ecocide”.
The Guarani-Kaiowá ask for Dilma Rousseff’s government to abide by the law. Brazil’s Constitution states since 1988 that indigenous peoples have “cultural and territorial rights” based on their ancestral heritage. This document ordered the demarcation of indigenous territories within five years. The Guarani-Kaiowá are still waiting for this recognition.
They have, however, successfully passed the first two steps of the recognition process for 22 of the 39 claimed territories. A council of anthropologists has certified the territories to be indigenous, then a federal court has confirmed the validity of these reports. But there is still one step missing for these decrees to become effective: Dilma Rousseff’s signature.
“With her pen, she can end an entire people’s suffering. I only ask one thing of her, that she sign, implored Valdelice Veron. The government, local authorities, landlords, are all tied to biofuel trade. The economic stakes are too high. Sugarcane is worth more than a child’s life”.
“The big landowners, the ruralistas, have great influence in Brazil”, recalled Arkan Simaan, member of Planète Amazone (NGO). Let’s not forget that the new Minister of Agriculture is a representative of agrobusiness. “Katia Abreu was nominated last December after Dilma Rousseff’s short reelection at the head of the State. She used to be the president of the CNA, the biggest landowner union in Brazil.”
Valdelice Veron has known the Brazilian government’s promises for a long time. Ever since the day her father took her to meet Lula da Silva, elected president of Brazil, who had promised during his campaign that his office would always be open. Marcos Veron and his daughter took his word for it, but the president’s door never opened.
© Le Monde - translated by Camille Guibal / original article
Date of the article : 23/07/2015
Date : 23/07/2015