The trial of three men accused of murdering the renowned Guarani Indian leader Marcos Veron is to resume on Monday 21 February in São Paulo, Brazil.
Marcos Veron, an internationally respected Guarani Kaiowá leader, was beaten to death in 2003 by gunmen working for a local rancher, after he led his community’s reoccupation of their ancestral land.
Veron said about his land, "This here is my life, my soul. If you take me away from this land, you take my life."
Veron's daughter Valdelice Veron told Survival, the NGO working to protect the rights of tribal people, "We know that the trial won't bring back our father and leader, Marcos Veron, but it will give us back our dignity and respect as human beings, as a people with the right to be different."
The defendants, Estevão Romero, Carlos Roberto dos Santos and Jorge Cristaldo Insabralde, who are employees on the ranch which took the land from Veron’s community, are accused of homicide, false imprisonment and other charges.
Brazil’s Attorney General’s office, which brought the case, has hailed it as "historic" because it is the first time that people accused of killing an Indian from Mato Grosso do Sul state are being tried by a jury.
The trial was scheduled to start in April last year, but was postponed twice as the lawyer of one of the defendants allegedly began a twenty-day period of psychotherapy, and the judge refused to hear the testimonies of the Guarani witnesses in their own language.
Much of the Guarani’s land has been stolen from them to make way for ranches and soya and sugarcane plantations. Last year, the energy giant Shell entered a joint-venture agreement with the biofuels company Cosan, which is buying sugarcane produced on land taken from the Guarani.
Many Guarani live in appalling conditions in overcrowded reserves and some live in make-shift camps on the sides of main roads. They suffer from alarmingly high rates of malnutrition, violence and suicide, as documented in a report sent to the UN by Survival International last year.
Guarani communities, frustrated with the long wait for the authorities to map out and protect their land for them as they are required to do by law, sometimes decide to return to their ancestral land and reoccupy it, as in the case of Veron’s community.
The Indian leaders who head the reoccupations of their land are systematically targeted by hitmen, who are rarely brought to justice.
Survival International’s Director, Stephen Corry, said, "Marcos Veron’s family and community have endured a painfully long wait for the trial to go ahead. They are now hoping that his killers will be brought to justice, and that the Guarani’s land is mapped out and protected for them. This is what Veron desired above all else, and what he ultimately gave his life for."
Survival is supporting a group of Guarani to attend the trial in São Paulo.