Indigenous teacher missing in Brazil after violence over ancestral lands

Brazilian and Paraguayan authorities must redouble their efforts to find an indigenous teacher who has been missing since 30 October following a violent eviction of activists on the border between the two nations, said Amnesty International.

Fears for the life of the teacher, Rolindo Vera, have intensified following the discovery of the badly bruised body of his cousin and fellow indigenous teacher, Genivaldo Vera, in a nearby river.

The men were teaching literacy skills in the Aldeia Pirajuí – an extremely poor, 3,000-strong Indigenous community, blighted by poverty and high infant mortality.

They were caught up in the violent land dispute that has seen several attacks on indigenous communities claiming land rights in recent months.

Twenty-five members of the Guarani Kaiowa indigenous people from the Aldeia Pirajuí, reoccupied farmlands they claim as ancestral near the town of Paranhos on the Brazil/Paraguayan border on 28 October.

Two days later, as the Indigenous group began erecting shacks; dozens of armed men arrived in a truck and began firing rubber bullets, leaving women and children fleeing for their lives into the undergrowth.

Community members say that they saw Genivaldo Vera being dragged off by the gunmen and Rolindo Vera fleeing into the bushes. Genivaldo Vera’s body was found in a nearby stream on 7 November, although it was not identified until 10 November.

An official forensic report has not yet been issued, but photos of the body released by the police to the family show that Genivaldo’s head had been shaven, his body had extensive bruising and there were marks around wrists suggesting that he had been bound.

Indigenous villages on the other side of the border have reported suspicious movements in the immediate aftermath of the eviction, suggesting that Rolindo Vera may have been abducted and taken into Paraguay.

Local NGOs are extremely concerned for Rolindo Vera’s safety and have criticized the authorities for their slowness to respond to the community’s pleas for an investigation into his whereabouts.

Amnesty International has called on the authorities to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the violent eviction from farmlands near the border town of Paranhos and the subsequent death of Genivaldo Vera and to bring those responsible to justice.

The ancestral lands that the community reoccupied should have already been identified with a view to future demarcation, but the farm lobby has repeatedly blocked the anthropological surveys necessary for identification.

Because of the ongoing failure to resolve outstanding land claims, several Guarani Kaiowa communities have ended up reoccupying the lands, which have been followed by a series of violent evictions, often involving armed men.

Irregular security companies, many of whom are effectively acting as illegal militias in the service of landowners or the agro-industry, have been involved in many human rights abuses in rural Brazil and remain a serious threat to both Indigenous peoples and rural workers fighting for their right to land.