SAO PAULO – Not far from the bustle of Sao Paulo, an imposing city of 12 million inhabitants, Brazil’s smallest indigenous reservation has “resisted” the pressures of a land conflict and stays firm in the face of “threats” launched by President Jair Bolsonaro.
Engulfed by the frenzy of the largest metropolis in South America, around 700 members of the Guarani ethnic group live in precarious conditions in six villages at the foot of the Jaragua peak, a national park and their ancestral home.
In this suburb, they live in cramped shacks, similar to the poorest slums in Brazil, without basic sanitation and with some 400 abandoned dogs carrying various diseases.
Unlike other indigenous reservations in Brazil, natural resources are scarce in this region.
Garbage, food debris and animal feces accumulate on the reddish earth, where children play and risk contracting infectious diseases.
Community leaders have been demanding action from the authorities for years, not only to improve the living conditions of the indigenous people, but also to guarantee the lands that once belonged to their ancestors.
The reserve was recognized and approved in 1987 and is the smallest indigenous area in the country with 1.7 hectares.
In 2015, a decree issued during the Government of Dilma Rousseff extended the area of the Guarani to 532 hectares, based on anthropological studies by the Brazilian government body for indigenous people (Funai).
But two years later, during the Government of Michel Temer, the Ministry of Justice annulled the decree that expanded the territory, which it described as an “administrative error,” a decision that intensified the struggle of the indigenous community.
“We fight for a place to live according to our traditions, to develop our culture, to produce our crafts, to find medicinal herbs,” Marcio Bolfarim Tekoa Itu, one of the leaders of the indigenous reserve, told EFE.
He said that since Bolsonaro came to power there has been an increase in attempts to “revise” the demarcations of land already approved in Brazil, “exploit” the members and “integrate” indigenous people into Western culture.
The indigenous policy defended by the far right has sparked alarm from nongovernmental organizations and has outraged the people of Pico Jaragua, who predict a future with “a lot of struggle and resistance” in the face of the new “threats.”
“The current president warned that when he was elected, he would not demarcate an inch of land and that the indigenous people would have to be inserted into society, but he does not understand that the indigenous people fought hard for their traditions, their way of life and their language to be respected,” said 25-year-old Thiago Henrique Karai Djekup, another leader of the Yvipora village.
Dressed in jeans, a jacket and a bird feather crown that indigenous leaders wear on special occasions, Thiago said the indigenous people are “ordinary” citizens but have their own rules and they are not “linked” to capital.
Real estate demand is threatening the indigenous reserve, where the community struggles to maintain its gods, its “opyi” prayer houses and its history, as the metropolis advances around it.
In the surrounding forest there are no raw materials to build houses in the traditional way, with wood and mud, and what remains, they say, must be preserved.
“To build them we have to buy the material, but we are not hostages of capital and many times we do not have the resources to build a decent house,” Thiago said.
For the Guarani, the “world is slowly coming to an end” and the only safe places are the indigenous reservations, which Bolsonaro is calling into question, he added.
“The government and the big companies are beginning to attack the communities where there are still some minerals, trees, natural wealth, they take away our territory and end our peoples,” he said.
According to Funai, there are currently 462 regularized indigenous lands, most of them in the Amazon region, in northern Brazil, which represent about 12.% of the 8,514,876 square kilometers of the whole country.