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Guarani Indians in Brazil Commit Suicide Over Loss of Ancestral Land

May 20, 2016 03:29 AM EDT
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Violent eviction from their ancestral lands and arson attacks are driving Guarani Indians in Brazil to despair and kill themselves.

According to figures disclosed by the Survival International, the Guarani tribe has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, at least 34 times the national average, and this mostly involving younger tribe members.

This means that at least one Guarani has been committing suicide every week since the start of the century. In a report by The Guardian, the deaths are mostly hangings, with the use of ropes, belts or cloths.

The youngest recorded suicide victim was nine-years old, but majority of the victims are between 15 and 29-years old.

The Guarani community in Brazil has a total population of 47,000, and they have been trying to recover a small portion of their original land. However, they have been facing violent resistance from the wealthy ranchers and plantation owners. The tribe has lost almost 95% of its ancestral land to industrial scale biofuels, and sugar can and soya plantations.

Because of this, the Guarani people are forced to live in squalid conditions like road sides and overcrowded reserves, where they suffer from malnutrition, poor health and alcoholism. Such conditions are driving them to commit suicide.

"We've been made beggars on our own land," Guarani leader and anthropologist Tonico Benites told The Guardian. "A slow genocide is taking place. There is a war being waged against us. We are scared. They kill our leaders, hide their bodies, intimidate and threated us. Me, too, many times," he added.

The brutal evictions have been ongoing for more than 20 years. According to Survival International, landowners are said to hire gunmen, the police and army are bringing in their tanks and helicopters, and the courts always sided with the ranchers and plantation owners.

"Our young people's only choice is to work for pitiful wages in atrocious conditions in the sugar cane plantations that now occupy our ancestral lands," Tonico said.

Despite the oppression and killings, the Guarani people have kept their culture and pride, and are still hoping to regain their land. 

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