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Development Destroyed Indigenous Guarani

What is affected
Type of violation Forced eviction
Date 01 January 1980
Region LAC [ Latin America/Caribbean ]
Country Brazil
Location Mato Grosso du Sul State

Affected persons

Total 1
Men 0
Women 0
Children 0
Proposed solution
Details Guarani of Brazil-Survival International rpt.pdf

Forced eviction
Land losses

- Land area (square meters)

- Total value
Housing losses
- Number of homes
- Total value

Duty holder(s) /responsible party(ies)

Private party
Brief narrative The Guarani were one of the first peoples contacted after Europeans arrived in South America around 500 years ago.

In Brazil, there are today around 46,000 Guarani living in seven states, making them the country’s most numerous tribe. Many others live in neighbouring Paraguay, Bolivia and and Argentina.

The Guarani people in Brazil are divided into three groups: Kaiowá, Ñandeva and M’byá, of which the largest is the Kaiowá which means ‘forest people’.

Guarani children work on the sugar cane fields which now cover much of their people’s ancestral lands in Mato Grosso do Sul state

They are a deeply spiritual people. Most communities have a prayer house, and a religious leader, whose authority is based on prestige rather than formal power.

The ‘land without evil’

For as long as they can remember, the Guarani have been searching – searching for a place revealed to them by their ancestors where people live free from pain and suffering, which they call ‘the land without evil’.

Over hundreds of years, the Guarani have travelled vast distances in search of this land.

One 16th century chronicler noted their ‘constant desire to seek new lands, in which they imagine they will find immortality and perpetual ease’.

This permanent quest is indicative of the unique character of the Guarani, a ‘difference’ about them which has often been noted by outsiders.

Today, this manifests itself in a more tragic way: profoundly affected by the loss of almost all their land in the last century, the Guarani suffer a wave of suicide unequalled in South America.

The problems are especially acute in Mato Grosso do Sul where the Guarani once occupied a homeland of forests and plains totaling some 350,000 square kilometers.

Today they are squeezed onto tiny patches of land surrounded by cattle ranches and vast fields of soya and sugar cane. Some have no land at all, and live camped by roadsides.


In the last 500 years virtually all the Guarani’s land in Mato Grosso do Sul state has been taken from them.

Waves of deforestation have converted the once-fertile Guarani homeland into a vast network of cattle ranches, and sugar cane plantations for Brazil’s biofuels market.

Many of the Guarani were herded into small reservations, which are now chronically overcrowded. In the Dourados reserve, for example, 12,000 Indians are living on little more than 3,000 hectares.

The destruction of the forest has meant that hunting and fishing are no longer possible, and there is barely enough land even to plant crops. Malnutrition is a serious problem and since 2005 at least 53 Guarani children have died of starvation.

Sugar cane plantations

Brazil has one of the most highly-developed biofuels industries in the world. Sugar cane plantations were established in the 1980s and rely heavily on indigenous labour. Workers often work for pitiful wages under terrible conditions. In 2007, police raided a sugar cane alcohol distillery and discovered 800 Indians working and living in subhuman conditions.

As many indigenous men are forced to seek work on the plantations they are absent from their communities for long periods and this has a major impact on Guarani health and society. Sexually transmitted diseases and alcoholism have been introduced by returning workers and internal tensions and violence have increased.

Over 80 new sugar cane plantations and alcohol distilleries are planned for Mato Grosso do Sul, many of which are to be built on ancestral land claimed by the Guarani.


The Guarani in Mato Grosso do Sul suffer from racism and discrimination, and high levels of harassment from the police. It is estimated that there are over 200 Guarani in jail with little or no access to legal advice and interpreters, trapped in a legal system they do not understand. This has resulted in innocent people being condemned. Many are serving disproportionately harsh sentences for minor of
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