The last words of Nísio Gomes, the Guarani leader assassinated yesterday in southern Brazil, were to his son Valmir: ‘Don’t leave this place. Take care of this land with courage. This is our land. Nobody will drag you from it. Look after my granddaughters and all the children well. I leave this land in your hands.’
The gunmen, alleged to be Paraguayan, then drove the 59-year-old’s body away.
As they fled, the attackers drove over Gomes’ ‘vara’ (a large prayer stick made of wood), which is used in rituals and prayers. It did not break. Valmir now has the vara, which is about 200 years old.
Gomes is believed to have been the main target of this attack, although there are unconfirmed reports two teenagers and a five-year-old child were also kidnapped.
He was the leader of a group of Guarani Indians, 60-70 of whom returned to part of their ancestral land in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul at the start of November, after being evicted by cattle ranchers. It was their third attempt to return to their land, from which they were evicted thirty years ago.
Before their return, the Indians had been living by the side of a road.
Valmir says his father had been threatened repeatedly by unknown men who visited their camp in the reserve of Amambai. One had reportedly told Gomes, ‘You’ll be dead soon.’
Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, FUNAI, and the federal police have opened an investigation. Brazil’s Human Rights Secretary condemned the murder as ‘part of the systematic violence against indigenous people in the region’.