Since the Guaraní lost their land to farmers, they have had to take on work outside their communities, working as day laborers on sugarcane plantations, for example. "Suicide isn't really part of our culture," says Wilson Matos, an attorney. "Young people are killing themselves because their homeland has been destroyed. When you take away a Guaraní's land, you rob him of his life."
Waiting for Poison
Matos, the son of a Guaraní father and a Terena mother, lived on a reservation until he was 14. Then he became the first member of an indigenous tribe in Mato Grosso do Sul to embark on a career as a lawyer. He ran the region's Indian authority, and now he defends indigenous offenders. He claims that need drives most of them to commit their crimes.
His fellow tribe member Evaldemir Cáceres, for example, lives with his extended family next to a four-lane highway on the outskirts of the provincial city of Dourados. The tribe members have patched together huts out of plastic sheeting and wood and the shantytown is home to 86 people. There is no electricity or running water, the children play in the dirt and most can neither read nor write.
They were promised a large tract of land near Dourados 43 years ago, but the establishment of this new reservation was repeatedly delayed. Instead, they were left with the miserable spot between the road and a brickyard where they now live. They receive a small amount of social welfare from the government. They grow manioc behind the huts, and pay rent to a landowner for the beds. White gunmen on motorcycles circle the shantytown at night, threatening women and children. The goal, say the tribe members, is to intimidate them.
At the end of last year, Cáceres and the other Guaraní headmen wrote in a letter to the government: "Send us poison so we can kill ourselves!"
They are still waiting for an answer.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan