The BBC News website has featured a gallery of photographs by Rosa Gauditano documenting the daily lifestyle of the Guarani-Kaiowa ethnic people for three years. Around thirty camps have been established by the tribe as they have been gradually forced from their traditional homelands. The evictions are nothing new when it comes to Brazil’s ethnic peoples. Logging companies, construction firms and farmers have frequently supplanted the native populations of South America.
The undermining of human rights has been going on for decades in Brazil, in states such as Mato Grosso do Sul, which is known for its outstanding scenic beauty; it is also the top producer of beef and biofuel in Brazil. The Guarani-Kaiowa people have been promised more permanent housing by the Brazilian government – in some cases since at least 1988. Some members of the Guarani-Kaiowa – who are among the largest indigenous tribal groups in Brazil, estimated at more than 40,000 strong – now live in roadside camps on the border with Paraguay, settling in a purgatorial existence as their rainforests are cleared in order to make room for crops such as soy.
Roadside life is dangerous. According to the BBC, a woman has given birth to her children at the side of the road, as she was born before them. She was widowed when her husband was struck by a vehicle. The floors of the makeshift accommodations transform into mud when it rains; the Guarani-Kaiowa are forced to lay stones on the ground so that their feet don’t sink into the ground. The suicide rate among the tribespeople is anomalously high.
Also documenting the plight of the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe are awareness and human rights groups. Amnesty International called on the Brazilian government to overturn an eviction order in October 2012. Petition group Avaaz describes how their campaign prevented the prospect of this forceful eviction of 170 Guarani-Kaiowa people from their ancestral lands. The indigenous group released a statement that was construed as threatening mass suicide before the campaign went viral late last year. Brazil’s legal establishment reacted as the world took notice. The original eviction order was overturned in a higher court, and Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff tasked the government body that oversees indigenous policy with a thirty day deadline to designate the land for Guarani people.
There are ongoing developments related to the rainforest in Brazil. The Belo Monte dam project has been in development on paper since the 1970s, with its primary aim of creating a hydro electric power source. The construction of this massive dam would result in the displacement of thousands of Amazonian tribespeople and flood an estimated 400,000 acres of rainforest. According to Avaaz, those corporations who stand to profit most from the dam are advocating immediate approval from Brazil’s government that construction begins, before the assessments pertaining to environmental impact have been fully undertaken and assessed.
Opposition worldwide is vocal. Campaigns of this kind continue throughout the region and the world, both from grassroots and from civil servants. The government of Ecuador’s policy of seeking international compensation to offset the losses from not exploiting its rainforests’ resources is a case worth monitoring. But one would hope that the viral nature of campaigns such as the one initiated on the Avaaz petition site will mitigate attempts by governments to evict the indigenous people of the Amazon, to destroy the jungles that are regarded as the lungs of the planet, and to reverse some of the more pernicious effects of deforestation and human rights violation.