-OpEd-

DOURADOS — Large imposing walls and fences have become a compulsory part of construction plans for the luxury gated communities mushrooming all around Brazil. But there is one particularity about the Ecoville Residence in Dourados, in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul. On the other side of its three-meter electric fence sits the overcrowded indigenous reserve of the Guarani-Kaiowá people.

The gate in Dourados doesn't exactly keep the tribe's members out, but instead it regulates their comings and goings. Every day, dozens of previously vetted indigenous people are indeed allowed inside the gated area to work. They represent half of the household employees and builders working in the residence's mansions.

But while the domestic help is welcomed, the same cannot be said for the numerous carts that the Guarani-Kaiowá use to try to sell manioc, sugar canes or potatoes in exchange for pocket change. 

The tragedy of indigenous tribes in the southern part of Mato Grosso do Sul is well documented. During the process of the region's colonization, under the rule of President Getúlio Vargas (1930-1954), farmers and state agents expelled the tribes-people from most of their lands, confining them to small reserves that are now overpopulated.

Suicide, malnutrition, murder

In Dourados, some 14,000 natives are crammed into 3,500 hectares (13 square miles), and the town has become a symbol of the problem that this confinement creates. The reserve, already annexed to the ever-growing urban area, barely has enough space for them to develop their agriculture, not to mention their traditional way of life.

The 1990s saw the number of suicides on the reserve increase dramatically. In the following decade, the deaths from child malnutrition caused nationwide shock. Now, the main cause for concern is the murder rate. But one problem doesn't substitute for another. Instead, they pile up, creating a tragic, self-feeding spiral.

In Dourados as in other cities, the Guarani-Kaiowá are trying to recover part of their original land, thus transforming the south of Mato Grosso do Sul into the main stage of conflicts between natives and farmers.

The ongoing demarcation process covers 117,000 hectares (452 square miles), which come on top of the current 29,000 hectares of indigenous land. Put together, that only represents 2.4% of the southern part of Mato Grosso do Sul. It is blocked in court by actions from farmers, who claim that the land where they live and work was lawfully bought, which is actually true is most cases.

Minister Gilberto Carvalho recently blamed the demarcation process delay on the current law, which doesn't allow the government to compensate the farmers who would be expropriated from their land in native territory. The fact is that during the last 12 years, the governing Workers' Party limited its actions towards the indigenous people to mere palliative social programs, perhaps even hoping to completely turn them into a helpless, dependent people whose political support would be guaranteed.

The walls that are being erected are the concrete proof that this isn't working.