A hit squad of some 40 masked gunmen on November 18 executed a cacique or traditional leader of Brazil’s Kaiowa-Guarani people. Nísio Gomes, 59, was shot down in front of his community, on disputed lands near the Paraguayan border in Mato Grosso do Sul state.
The gunmen arrived in trucks, surrounded Gomes, and ordered community members to lie on the ground. Community members say he was shot in the head, chest, arms and legs—his body then thrown into the back of a truck and driven away. The remains have not been recovered.
Another four Guarani were wounded when they attempted to resist. Federal Police have been dispatched to the region, but say they have no leads.
Gomes was the leader of a group of some 60 Guarani who had established the new community at Fazenda Ouro Verde (Green Gold Farm) in Amambaí municipality three weeks earlier. They claim the land as part of their traditional territory, from which they were evicted by cattle ranchers. For the past week, the community reported that gunmen in trucks had repeatedly circled their camp.
Gomes’ son Valmir told the UK-based Survival International that his father had been threatened repeatedly by unknown men who visited their camp. One had reportedly told Gomes, “You’ll be dead soon.”
Survival International reports that Gomes spoke his last words to Valmir as the gunmen arrived: “Don’t leave this place. Take care of this land with courage. This is our land. Nobody will drag you from it. Look after my granddaughters and all the children well. I leave this land in your hands.”
As they fled, the assailants drove over Gomes’ vara—a wooden staff used in rituals and prayers. It did not break. Valmir now has the vara, which is believed to be about 200 years old.
Brazil’s indigenous affairs department, FUNAI, has also opened an investigation into the slaying. Brazil’s Human Rights Secretariat condemned the murder as “part of the systematic violence against indigenous people in the region.” Human Rights Minister Maria do Rosario Nunes said the region is “one of the worst scenes of conflict between indigenous people and ranchers in the country.”
Survival International director Stephen Corry said, “It seems like the ranchers won’t be happy until they’ve eradicated the Guarani. This level of sustained violence was commonplace in the past and it resulted in the extinction of thousands of tribes. It is utterly shameful that the Brazilian government allows it to continue today.”
Some 70 more Guarani are reported to have strengthened the encampment at Fazenda Ouro Verde, and pledge to defend it with their lives. One of the defenders told the Indigenous Missionary Council news agency, CIMI: “The people will stay in the camp, we will all die here together. We are not going to leave our ancestral land.”
This is the third attempt by the Kaiowa-Guarani to reclaim the land, from which they were evicted by ranchers 30 years ago. Before their return, the community had been living by the side of a road.
The disputed lands are now producing cattle, soy and sugar cane. Several Guarani leaders have been killed since they launched their campaign to recover lands in the region in 2003. FUNAI in 2008 began to consider the disputed lands for demarcation as Guarani communities, but the process is not yet concluded. Mato Grosso do Sul is one of Brazil’s biggest sources of beef, soy and other cash crops for the export market.