Brazil's indigenous people fear election result will do little to help them

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By Mark Armstrong  with AFP
Indigenous people are often forced into poverty outside of reservations
Indigenous people are often forced into poverty outside of reservations   -   Copyright  AFP

The town of Nova Santa Rosa in southern Brazil’s Parana state is prosperous enough with good houses and manincured gardens.

But many of the workers who keep it neat and tidy represent the other side of the state. Impoverished indigenous people are forced to take menial work here often hours away from their villages.

Daniela Acosta trained as a teacher but couldn't find work in that field. Now she says she is working in a chicken slaughterhouse to pay off her course fees. 

"Even here in the city it's difficult for us to be welcomed," explained Daniela. "We are even ashamed to ask for the basic food basket because they say: "You have to work to buy things."

Many of the indigenous people in the region live in the municipality of of Guaira.

Their situation is similar to that of many native communities in Brazil under the rule of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who faces an election run-off on Sunday.

He came to power four years ago vowing not to allow "one more centimetre" of protected indigenous reservations.

Without such protection people are often forced off their ancestral land to make way for industrial-scale agriculture.

Indigenous communities like the Ava Guarani have been reduced to living in hunger and hopelessness on a leftover scrap of unwanted territory in the state of Parana.

"It is very sad, hunger is no joke. Here we go hungry," said Chief Inácio Martins,  the Avá-Guarani leader. "It's not because we are lazy or because we don't want to work. We really don't have space to work, to plant, to produce food. There is very little area here. In Marangatu it is all stone, there is no land for planting."

Martins says he has little hope that anything will change no matter who is elected on Sunday.

"My father-in-law was over 100 years old when he died, and he didn't manage to get our reservation established. I'm approaching 60, and I don't think I'll see it, either," he says.

Of the 725 Indigenous lands identified in Brazil, around a third are still awaiting official recognition as reservations, according to the country's Socio-Environmental Institute.