Guarani and Kaiowá – massacre and resistance



The dramatic situation of indigenous peoples in recent years seems to demonstrate that Brazil has lost all sense of human respect, legality and decency.

In the midst of so much information that we receive daily, sometimes it is not easy to realize that one of the most important and disturbing phenomena in the contemporary world continues to happen in full national territory: the continuous and systematic massacre of the Guarani and Kaiowá peoples in Mato Grosso do Sul. As serious as the tragedies of Afghanistan, Palestine, Mexico or Sudan, the dramatic situation of indigenous peoples in recent years seems to demonstrate that this country has lost all sense of human respect, legality and decency.

The intolerance of agribusiness and the failure of the political-judicial system mean that the Guarani and Kaiowá are not only considered second-class citizens, but also degenerate and less valuable indigenous people, unworthy of living on their own land. Despite legislation since colonial times guaranteeing them a clear and certain right to ancestral areas, confirmed and underlined in the text of the current Constitution, more than 50.000 people live a life of imposture, racism and violence. In addition to all the cruelty committed by the theft of their lands by farmers and the national State, it is a daily genocide, in the light of day, that leaves this country smaller and smaller, more incomplete and ashamed of itself.

How to understand the problems of the Guarani and Kaiowá peoples without realizing that Brazilian development has feet of clay and the vision of a cyclops? What right does the foreign researcher have to try to explain the ongoing silent genocide (discussed in the book Kaiowcide: Living through the Guarani-Kaiowa Genocide, Lexington Books), while their victims have their lives permanently at risk from the bullet, hunger, disease, and indifference? Why is the socio-spatial trajectory of the Guarani and Kaiowá, at the same time, specific and localized, but also undeniably demonstrates the fantasies of modern rationality and elitist globalization? What makes such small geographies such a valuable opportunity to rethink the oppressive cartography of the national state and its exclusionary socioeconomics?

Questions like these continue to deeply disturb and challenge me since the first time I visited an indigenous reserve in Mato Grosso do Sul, a few years ago. The initial contact was brief, but I soon realized that I was facing one of the biggest and most challenging controversies in contemporary world geography. I began to admire more and more the two brother peoples, Guarani and Kaiowá, with striking identities and extraordinary knowledge about themselves and the cosmos, a beautiful language and religiosity, and active, generous and secure people of their place in history and space. . His science and knowledge are far from the positivist arrogance of Western academia, but are based on permanent experimentation and sensitive and creative contact with the biophysical world. From the little I've managed to learn to date about the incredible Guarani and Kaiowá existence, I have no doubt that the country would be much bigger, and its society more hopeful, if it understood them better, met their demands and observed rights already fully guaranteed by law. . It is a small-large geography that has been brutally neglected, which leaves the Brazilian nation stumbling and vulnerable to populist or explicitly anti-people politicians. Today, the country continues aimlessly and with this terrible socio-spatial debt outstanding.

It is no secret that the Guarani and Kaiowá have a past based on serious violence and a present structured by injustice and racism. This heavy burden should be the first priority to be resolved by any government that is truly democratic and truly committed to people, indigenous and non-indigenous. For the time being, what prevails in the Três Poderes-Faria Lima axis is the curse of Erysicthonis (or Erysichthon), the character of Ovídio who, as punishment for his wrongdoing, becomes chronically insatiable, devours all the animals, sells his daughter to being able to eat more, without ever ceasing to be hungry, to the point of starting to devour yourself and getting smaller and smaller. Brazilian economic activity, based on large estates, agribusiness and bank rents, is the most regrettable demonstration that social life can imitate the tragedies of classical art. It is an economy cursed by the sweat and tears of so many indigenous, black, poor, landless people, with nothing. A country that reveres its many Erysicthonises cannot escape being the Republic of Nonada, a word with which Guimarães Rosa opened his most anthological work, revealing a chimerical and diabolical geography. As in Great Sertão: Veredas, so much movement, so much anguish, so much misunderstanding, why? To never leave Nonada. More soy, more sugarcane, nothing else.

Without repaying its debt to the past and resolving its foolishness towards the future, this country does not deserve a full name either. It is a half-country, dwarfed and sad, whose name needs to be relativized to make its incompleteness and civilizational failure explicit. It is not Brazil, but Brazil*: this asterisk is, to a large extent, the scar of the Guarani and Kaiowá genocide, experienced every day by those who are treated as refugees in the very lands of family members and ancestors. Brazil* is the hallmark of a suicidal economy and a society that does not fit in with itself. The asterisk is the pierced eye of a cyclopean, monstrous and blind republic. Brazil*, a farcical imitation of the Kingdom of Hades, had its configuration defended by former lieutenant Bolsonaro during the campaign in Dourados on February 8, 2018: “Not one more centimeter [square] for the Indian. In Bolivia we have an Indian as president, why do they need land here?”. The bad soldier, removed from the Army for incompetence and bad behavior, came to the Guarani and Kaiowá ground to threaten them with exile and offer the cold blade of fascism. Servant-forged cartography of Nonada (minions in English) of Erysicthonis. It reminds us of Joseph Conrad's famous phrase in Heart of Darkness, a novel published in 1899, about the destruction of lives and places in colonized Africa: “The horror! The horror!”

The Guarani and Kaiowá genocide – designated here as Kaiowcídio – is, in fact, just the most recent phase of a long genocidal process that, since the XNUMXth century, has tried to destroy the Guarani peoples and significantly destabilize their socio-spatiality due to invasions, enslavements and persecutions. . Kaiowcide is the reincarnation and rebirth of ancient genocidal practices, disguised by a legalist rule of law and the pressure of agribusiness. The focus in recent years may have shifted from assimilation and confinement to abandonment and confrontation, but the same intent persists to weaken and eliminate the ancestral inhabitants of the land through the stifling of their religion, identity and, ultimately, geography. Just like the motto “kill the Indian, save the man”, used to try to complete the eradication of indigenous tribes in North America, in Mato Grosso do Sul the logic of Kaiowcídio has been “to abuse, reject and, if necessary, imprison or kill those who stand in the way of economic development”.

Sustaining the genocidal advance, the aggression and robbery of the indigenous world continues strong, which in practice has been expanded since the second half of the last century and has resulted in serious personal and community consequences, including situations of hostility, depression, alcoholism, domestic violence and suicides. When it became evident to the Guarani and Kaiowá that the government would continue to prevaricate and act to maintain established inequalities, the collective decision was to initiate a coordinated reoccupation of their ancestral areas lost to development through repossessions, which triggered a corresponding reaction from landowners. and authorities in the form of Kaiowcide. This means that, in addition to the obstacles faced by any other subaltern group in racist and conservative Brazilian society, the Guarani and Kaiowá also now have to face the monumental challenge of recovering their lands in order to rebuild spatial relationships in the midst of an ongoing genocide.

Because of the multiple difficulties within communities and in small inhabited spaces, where their ethnicity and identity can be minimally respected and valued, the Guarani and Kaiowá were implacably impelled into a daily, anti-genocidal struggle for social, religious and physical survival. In the expression of Aníbal Quijano, they are constantly led to be “what they are not”, that is, there are great barriers to accepting their ethnic specificities and their most fundamental needs as a distinct social group. In particular, and very worryingly, the high suicide rates remain unchanged and are 18 times higher than in the rest of the Brazilian population. Even the regular killing of Guarani and Kaiowá, both during retakes and in isolated skirmishes, has become so commonplace that many incidents now escape the more commonplace headlines. When other causes of death are taken into account, such as loss of life due to hunger and malnutrition, unhealthy conditions, lack of drinking water, food insecurity, being run over, different types of drugs and acute depression, among others, it is not difficult to perceive the depth of the feeling bitterness of genocide between families and communities. Kaiowcide is social, psychological, aesthetic, biophysical and existential.

This leaves thousands of people, of all ages, trapped in an existence almost impossible and obliges them to be more and more indigenous in order to survive, even though the hegemonic reaction of non-indigenous society is to reject them and try to convert them more and more into sub-humans, because less indigenous. Most of the Guarani Kaiowá, even many of those who live on official reserves, yearn to return to the land of their parents and grandparents. Even those who seem somehow integrated into the non-indigenous world cultivate the memory and reference of the land lost to dominant and exclusive development. The general feeling is something like being in the intermezzo of a turbulent ordeal that has lasted for several decades and will perhaps be resolved, one glorious day, with the arrival back in the area where the family was expelled.

Indigenous Genocide is, therefore, the name, surname and address of agrarian capitalism and rural development in Mato Grosso do Sul and in a good part of the Brazilian agricultural frontiers. The previous genocidal phases resulted in the tragic disintegration of lived spaces with ethnic references and in the confinement of the Guarani and Kaiowá in overcrowded places, with the worst social indicators in Brazil* and unimaginable levels of human misery. But when the Guarani and Kaiowá realized that their complete annihilation was the plan shared by ranchers, businessmen and the government, they began to organize large assemblies, the Aty Guasu, to better connect with other indigenous peoples, campaign for political recognition, send their young people to schools and universities, and to retake areas from which the elderly and deceased ancestors were expelled. As the powerful sectors of Brazilian society only communicate with the indigenous people using a genocidal alphabet, they put into practice what they do best: a new genocide in the form of Kaiowcide. From the perspective of the powerful, being indigenous cannot continue at all. Being indigenous is automatically asking for and receiving genocide.

All of this demonstrates an enduring political agency that results from the very continuation of indigenous peoples as distinct groups, much as their existence is the result of specialized space-related policies that help them resist and respond to genocidal aggression. The exceptional skill and determination of the Guarani and Kaiowá to deal with the ongoing genocide seems to be located precisely in the implantation of assumed and imputed differences – comprising elements of terrestrial knowledge, religion, language, cosmology and ethnicity – in an attempt to maintain and expand the attachment to a social space that is simultaneously lost, felt and desired. In other words, the existence of the indigenous derives from rational, emotional and symbolic connections to Guarani-Kaiowá ontological references and connections with experiences accumulated over generations.

The anticidal struggle of the Guarani and Kaiowá is a collective effort to overcome terrible socio-spatial obstacles and seek to maintain the key elements of their world, mainly through the recovery of lost ancestral areas for regional development. Genocide is the most horrific experience any social group can have to face, but it can be fought through the mobilization of spatial and ethnic identities and, more importantly, it reinforces the will to fight and the importance of cohesive political action. The Guarani and Kaiowá were partially and temporarily assimilated during colonization and agricultural expansion, so that they could be contained and exploited through depersonalized market relations. In this way, socio-spatial differences were manipulated to make them invisible from the dominant development perspective and to justify the appropriation of indigenous lands and the adoption of other illegal and racist practices. At the same time, the singularity of the Guarani and Kaiowá is their best hope for resistance and the main force that allows them to continue hoping for a better life in a different world order. This concrete example of deeply intertwined indigenous and non-indigenous worlds is fundamental to demonstrate the need to mobilize a critical indigenous geography as a tool to question the impacts of western modernity and the concepts normally used to justify the advance of agrarian capitalism. To be and remain Guarani and Kaiowá is to be able to mobilize what is different in their experiences, practices and strategies in relation to spatial imaginaries and concrete social relations.

An indigenous genocide such as Kaiowcide cannot be judged in terms of numbers of people, size of reservations, seats in parliament or media coverage, but above all by the monstrosity of past and present relations, which continue to be based on violence, abandonment and racism. If the indigenous issue is important and disturbing, the most important thing is the prospect that “indigenous politics” expands its role in local and national politics. Threat or hope, depending on how you perceive it, it is like a spectrum above the Brazilian national government and sectors of civil society, because the indigenous agenda of demands and its superior morality is evident, as well as its capacity to forge alliances and subvert trends perverse political and economic. The Guarani and Kaiowá are doing this brilliantly, even at the expense of exhausting sacrifices by many for few but tangible achievements. Their struggle for the land caused a lot of anguish and internal tensions, but it also strengthened their internal capacity to negotiate and act and survive, with a view to one day ending and overcoming the Kaiowcide.

*Antonio AR Ioris is professor of geography at Cardiff University.

Originally published on the website Other words.


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