A Brazilian organization representing an Indigenous tribe in the country’s south-west denied local and international reports that spread online Thursday claiming a group of Guarani-Kaiowa were planning to commit mass suicide if a judge ordered them off their ancestral lands.
Ruy Sposati, a spokesperson for the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), said the Guarani-Kaiowa group of about 170 people planned mass resistance to the death, not mass suicide, to protect their lands in a southwestern Brazilian state.
Sposati said they would rather be massacred than leave their lands where their ancestors have been buried.
“It is not suicide…this is a mistake. They say they are going to die together resisting on their land if they removed by federal agents, the military or gunmen,” said Sposati, in an interview with APTN National News from Brasilia, Brazil’s capital. “They are going to stand up and if they start shooting they won’t run.”
Sposati said the tribe would be armed only with bows and arrows and wooden hatchets.
“They don’t usually resist with violence and they will stay there,” he said. “(A massacre) is one of the possibilities.”
International and local press reported that they planned a mass suicide and it spread through social media like Twitter and blogs.
A federal judge upheld a request on Sept. 29 from a rancher requesting their eviction and levied fines against the group. Sposati said the eviction process is still moving through the system and the Guarani-Kaiowa still have an opportunity to make their submissions to the judge.
In a statement posted on CIMI’s website, the Guarani-Kaiowa said they were facing “total extinction” at the hands of the Brazilian justice system.
“We received information that our community will soon be attacked, raped,” said the statement. “This decision of the federal court…is part of the action of genocide and extermination (of)Indigenous people.”
Sposati said the group of Guarani-Kaiowa has been fighting for over a century to reclaim lands they lost in the late 1800s and early 1900s to a tea company that forged a deed to their territory.
They were further displaced by a Brazilian government program to populate the southwestern state of Mato Gross do Sul in the 1920s and later by cattle ranchers and now agro-businesses growing things like soy and corn.
The group of Guarani-Kaiowa tried to occupy the land in 2003 and 2009, but they were evicted violently. Sposati said they faced torture and the razing of their homes.
“They have also been kidnapped and they tortured them too and burned their houses,” said Sposati. “They said to (Brazil’s) public minister that they have been tortured by the gunmen who have been hired by ranchers.”
The latest occupation came in 2011 and how they are again facing eviction, but this time they say they won’t moving, not matter what they face, he said.
Sposati said the false story of the mass suicide had hurt their cause. He said the tribe suffers from widespread suicide and that the Guarani-Kaiowa villages as a whole had experienced about 555 suicides between 2000 and 2011.
Sposati said other groups of Guarani-Kaiowa are also involved in battles with ranchers over land reclamations.