|ALWAYS AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE STRUGGLE|
Last week a great man died.
Guarani Indian leader Ambrosio Vilhalva was murdered as he approached his community, known as Guyra Roká, near the town of Caarapao, in Mato Grosso do Sul state, Brazil.
Vilhalva travelled extensively internationally to speak out about his tribe's plight, and push the Brazilian government live up to its legal obligations and protecting Guarani land. The Guyra Roká community was evicted from its land by ranchers many decades ago, forcing the people to live in conditions of poverty on the side of a motorway while their land was predominantly turned into sugar plantations. In 2007, the Guyra Roká community began to occupy a part of the land which was taken from them and now live on a small portion of this territory.
In 2010, Vilhalva said, " The sugar cane plantations are finishing off the Indians. Our lands are getting smaller and smaller. The plantations are killing the Indians."
Survival International reported that Vilhalva had been receiving death threats, a situation all too common for Guaraní indigenous leaders. It also wrote:
Ambrósio Vilhalva was a spokesman for his people and a leader in his community’s struggle to reclaim their ancestral land. In the words of another Guaraní spokesman,
Birdwatchers, at the same time a love story and an attempt to describe the plight of the Guaraní-Kaiowá people and their forest homeland. Produced with significant participation from the Guaraní themselves, and with several Guaraní actors in leading roles, the film drew a very diverse range of reactions, from thoughtful praise to angry criticism. This controversy, however, could be counted as a victory for the film, since one of its goals was precisely to call attention to the situation of the Guaraní.Ambrósio Vilhalva was also an actor. In 2008 he took part in the Italian-Brazilian film
A Guarani spokesman told media: "Ambrósio fought hard against the sugar cane. He was one of our main leaders, always at the forefront of our struggle, so he was being threatened. He was an extremely important figure in the Guarani land campaign, and now, we've lost him".
Vilhalva’s ceaseless campaigning against sugar cane planting made an impact when a joint campaign between the Guyra Roká community and Survival International forced Raízen, a venture between fuel companies Shell and Cosan to use sugar cane for biofuel production, to stop using produce from the Guarani’s ancestral land.
A few days after his death, a protest in Brazil's capital served as a reminder of the deprivations and danger that face many Indigenous Brazilians. Indian Country Today reported:
...an estimated 1,700 representatives of dozens of tribes marched on Brazil’s Presidential Palace and the Ministry of Justice to protest a proposed judicial decree that would change the rules for creating indigenous territories in a way that protesters said would make it nearly impossible for Indians to gain title to ancestral lands. It was the latest of various indigenous protests this year to bring attention to moves by branches of the Brazilian government that threatened Native land rights, and the increase in violence against their leaders.
During the march a confrontation broke about between some protesters and the Palácio do Panalto security force, which used pepper spray to disperse the group. "Some participants were hospitalized," an indigenous leader, Marcos Xukuru, told the Brazilian news agency Adital. The marchers then moved on to the Justice Ministry and requested an interview with the minister; they were told he was out of the office.
The following is from Survival International.