Marinalva Manoel, a leading figure in the Guarani Indian repatriation movement, was found dead on Saturday, her body left on the side of a highway.
Decades ago, Brazil’s Guarani people were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands by ranchers. For decades, many tribes have lived destitute, itinerant lives, camping on roadsides or illegally occupying corners of their former territories, now turned into sugar cane and soybean plantations. This has led to frequent outbreaks of violence against the Guarani by ranchers and other forces.
Manoel was an active campaigner for her indigenous people, joining a delegation of Guarani leaders last month in a 600-mile journey to the capital of Brazil to demand the return of their lands. Manoel led one of seven communities that had recently reoccupied their ancestral lands, though each now faces eviction orders and threats of violence.
According to an initial report from Survival International, Manoel was allegedly raped and then stabbed to death.
Eliseu Lopes, a Guarani leader, told Survival International, “We are fighting for our land, and we are being killed, one by one. They want to get rid of us altogether… We are in a state of despair, but we will not give up.”
Manoel is but the latest high profile Guarani leader to be killed in the fight for repatriation. In December 2013, Ambrósio Vilhalva was stabbed to death in his hut following months of threats. Vilhalva, in partnership with Survival International, successfully campaigned against the planting of sugar cane on his tribe’s former lands.
With Manoel’s brutal murder, the outlook for the Guarani people becomes increasingly grim. According to the Brazilian NGO CIMI, the Guarani have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with at least 72 members of the Kaiowá committing suicide in 2013. This is equivalent to 232 deaths per 100,000, a rate “that has nearly tripled over the last two decades,” says Survival International.