Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples’ long, painful wait to go home

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty marks Indigenous Peoples Day with a visit to Brazil.The Indigenous Peoples of Brazil have been waiting a quarter of a century to get their land back. That was when Brazil’s federal authorities made a promise to protect and restore the land used by the country’s of Indigenous communities. Instead, those 25 years have taken a horrible toll – both on the communities and on the land. In Mato Grosso do Sul, what were hectares of forest with incredible diversity are now fields of sugar cane and soy beans. There are fields upon fields of these crops as far as the eye can see, broken intermittently by a small patch of forest. Here corporate players call the shots. Indigenous Peoples are left to live on the margins – literally.  I visited a small community called the Guarani-Kaiowá, who live between the barbed wire fence that surrounds a cane field and a major road. Their leaders welcomed me, but their words of anger, frustration and grief were drowned out by the nearly continuous roar of trucks travelling at high speed along the road.Their tales of suffering are alarming, yet sadly not unusual. Just this year, a small boy in the community was struck by a car as he walked along the road, hand-in-hand with his grandmother – the fifth family member she had lost.Attacks on members of Indigenous communities are routine in Brazil. Community leaders are often targeted, members disappear and activists are particularly at risk, but virtually none of the perpetrators are brought to justice.I met Sister Michael, a lawyer who represents surviving family members of people who were killed. She described to me repeated failures of the justice system. In one case, by the time she got the courts to agree to try the accused, they were over 70 years old and too old to be prosecuted.  Such impunity is inexcusable. There is no justification for the Brazilian government’s delay in restoring lands to Indigenous communities. They have the legal authority and the financial means to do so. But still, the communities’ wait goes on.