Sun, Feb 18, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Amnesty says lack of food handouts led to Indian deaths

AP , RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Thousands of Brazil's Guarani-Kaiowa Indians were at further risk of malnutrition and starvation, and two young children died, after the government temporarily suspended food handouts this year, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The southwestern Mato Grosso do Sul state stopped distributing baskets of food staples to some 11,000 Guarani-Kaiowa on the Dourados reservation, about 1,300km west of Rio de Janeiro, in January when a new government was elected, the London-based human rights group said.

A nine-month-old baby and a two-year-old child died shortly afterward, the group said.

Rodrigo Oliveira, a spokesman for the National Health Foundation, or Funasa, said the suspension was recently lifted and that the foundation is now supplying food baskets to Indians for the state government. He did not say exactly how long the suspension lasted.

The Dourados reservation, measuring 3,500 hectares, is severely overcrowded, and many people rely on government food handouts, Amnesty said.

Under Brazil's 1988 Constitution, the government must return ancestral lands to the Indians after the current owners are compensated. But the indigenous communities say the landowners have been slow to hand over the lands, where many ranchers live.

Ranchers have challenged the expropriations in court.

Danilo Forte, executive director of Funasa, said on Friday that Indians under its care were expelled from their land and "dumped on a roadside," in another district of the state near the Paraguay border, where they live under "inhuman conditions."

Forte told Agencia Brasil that Funasa provides food and drinking water to the Indians, and confirmed that at least one child had died of malnutrition during the government's suspension of food baskets.

Until the 1940s, the Kaiowa and the related Guarani tribe roamed freely over about a quarter of Mato Grosso.

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