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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 March, 2005, 03:41 GMT
Malnutrition hits Brazil Indians
By Tom Gibb
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Malnourished child in hospital in Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul
The plight of Indian children has prompted Congress to investigate
Brazil's health authorities say at least eight indigenous children have died of malnutrition in western Brazil.

The deaths on Indian reservations are causing a scandal after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva promised to eradicate hunger.

Six died in one reservation alone, where more than 11,000 Guarani and Kaiowa Indians are squeezed into an area designed for 300 people.

The area which has seen violent land clashes between Indians and farmers.

The deaths occured in the province of Mato Grosso do Sul.

The name of the province, Mato Grosso, means "thick forest" in Portuguese - and a century ago that was true.

But settlers have long since occupied all the land, turning it today into a vast prairie of soy, providing rich profits for farmers.

The Indians, on the other hand, live on government handouts in tiny reservations.

The lack of land doesn't allow them to continue their traditional nomadic lifestyle.

Alcoholism, suicide and prostitution are common.

Several Indian leaders who have started to organise protests and land takeovers in recent years have been assassinated by gunmen hired, many believe, by local farmers.

Last year Indian frustration in the area erupted into violence when several thousand Guarani occupied farms they claimed as their ancestral lands.

A government team has been sent to tackle the immediate problem of malnutrition in the reservations and the Brazilian Congress has started an investigation.

But many warn that without a wider overhaul of policy towards the Indians, there could well be more deaths.

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29 Jan 04 |  Americas
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22 Jan 04 |  Americas
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30 Dec 03 |  Americas
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31 Jan 04 |  Americas

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