Brazil: elderly CAFOD partner killed over land rights

 Marcos Veron, an indigenous community leader in Brazil, has been murdered while trying to defend the rights of his people in a dispute over their traditional land. Marcos Veron, in his 70's, was the leader of the Takuara community of Guarani Indians in Mato Grosso do Sul and a key figure in the indigenous movement. The Takuara community returned to their traditional lands on 12 January after being brutally expelled by a local rancher last October. Later that day, employees of the rancher used extreme violence to remove the Takuara from the area. After the confrontation, Marcos was found on a nearby roadside suffering from head and chest injuries. He died of his wounds just before midday yesterday in hospital. Marcos visited CAFOD in 2000 to mark the 500 anniversary of the arrival of the first Europeans in Brazil and was well known by CAFOD supporters throughout the country. CAFOD's Brazilian Programme officer Jan Smith said: "The killing of Marcos Veron has robbed the Guarani of an irreplaceable spiritual and political leader and CAFOD of a wonderful partner whose courage and fortitude was an inspiration to all who met him. It is an immense loss to all of us. "Marcos made a huge impact on all who met him and spoke with great eloquence and dignity about his life and experiences. He personified not only the history of his people, but also the struggle for the recognition of indigenous rights in Brazil. They may be able to beat an old man to death, but his spirit will not die." CAFOD is calling for a thorough investigation into his death and for those responsible to face justice. The Takuara must be allowed to return to their lands immediately and the Brazilian government must ensure that indigenous peoples are protected in future. The Guarani people are the largest tribe in Brazil. However, they have the least land per head of any of Brazil's tribal peoples. Thousands of Guarani now live crowded onto tiny plots of land on Indian reservations or abandoned on roadsides. Unable to support themselves as they have traditionally done, the Guarani find themselves being exploited as cheap labour by the very ranchers and plantation owners that have robbed them of their land. This persecution and exploitation has created a kind of communal depression amongst the Guarani, and has led to alarming suicide rates. Marcos himself recounted how he had saved his own son from committing suicide by hanging. His own community of Takuara had reoccupied their land for 3 years and were in the process of getting their occupation rights legally recognised when they were expelled in October 2002. With nowhere else to go, the community of around 80 families were forced to camp out on the side the road. For the Guarani, the link to their traditional land is strong, when explaining to visitors how important land was to his people, Marcos would scrape a bit of earth into his hand and then eat it, explaining: "This is my life, my soul. If you take away my land, you take away my life."

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