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An inter-cultural
    political thriller

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If an indigenous person wants to become a mayor

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Since the time of his youth, Kazike (chief) Marcos has raised his voice confidently in Europe’s churches and schools. Back at that time he recounted the ideological struggle of the Xukuru have to undertake to pursue their independence, their way of life and their spirituality, but especially the bloody struggle to protect their ancestral, traditional land in one of the reservations recognised by the state.


Today he reports to environmental policy committees, universities, international cultural events, to the UN in Geneva and in the Brazilian senate about ongoing discrimination despite achieving reservation status.

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In 2020 he stirred up the local politics outside of the reservation.


Just outside the Xukuru reservation lies the provincial city of Pesqueira in the state of Pernambuco. About 70,000 Brazilians live there, among them many large-scale landowners – faziendeiros – who all along have bent the laws to their advantage and who go

Kazike Marcos has now announced his candidacy at the new election in 2020 for the office of mayor. According to newspaper reports he views himself not only as indigenous but also as a citizen of Pesqueira, who wants to make his contribution as a Brazilian and not only for his Xukuru reservation.


He has practically financed the election campaign himself, and contested it almost single-handedly. In November 2020 he wins, barely but indisputably, with 51.6% of the legal votes;

"The victory of Kazike Marcos – the first elected indigenous mayor in Brazil, – represents progress!”

„In the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic the 2020 elections are a civilisational advancement for our democracy. We, the indigenous people, have legally conquered the voting urns. The victory of Kazike Marcos, the first elected indigenous mayor in Brazil, represents progress”, emphasises the executive coordinator of Apib, Sonia Guajajara (from the Arariboia tribe, Maranhão).

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Kazike Marcos, chief of the Xukuru:   

Marcos Luidson de Araújo is a little over 40 years old, and since 2000 has been the chief of the Xukuru do Ororubá, an indigenous nation of about 20,000 members who live in a protected reservation divided into 24 villages.

In the more than 20 years of his leadership he has facilitated for the Xukuru people many improvements of the “white world” and its inclusion in their culture. Among other things, he has concerned himself about better health-care and education; he built two large long-houses in which they gather and hold their meetings, their ceremonies, training sessions and multi-media conferences.


One of the hall-like “long-houses” was christened “Buen Vivir” after Alberto Acosta’s Ecuadorian program, whose ideology for the environment and for good living they have adopted.

The Xukuru exchanged their horses for horsepower long ago, their youth people are proud of their roots with which they identify and to whose spirituality, whose philosophy of life and whose rules for the protection of nature they are committed.

Since the Xukuru founded their own video firm they are also, at the moment, particularly conspicuous on social media because of Kazike Marcos. He spreads news of their struggles and issues internationally.

Nevertheless, he cannot take up his office as mayor; Kazike Marcos received an inter-cultural political ban!


The discussion about the interpretation of the law to that effect (Ficha Limpa) goes back to the year 2013, but it actually began already decades earlier:

                                                                                                          Charlotte Eichhorn was there at the time:



A murderous pre-history:

The Xukuru ave always been self-sufficient in the hills of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco. Everything grows on their very fertile land and as it lies on the border of the semi-arid tropical area of the dry zone, it receives more rainfall: this is the reason why the Xukuru land was, and still is, desired by the old oligarchs, the faziendeiros.

"The struggle of indigenous people is always over their land,” says Dona Zenilda, the mother of Marcos:

The Xukuru were first encountered somewhat more than 350 years ago, when they defended themselves against the Portuguese immigrants.

A peace accord was reached: the Xukuru transferred 5000 of their warriors to the Portuguese army, they allowed themselves to be converted, and received as compensation the promise of a Xukuru reservation.

The accord, however, was never adhered to; the Xukuru were hunted and enslaved; it was prohibited for them to use their language and to practise their traditional rites.

Conflicts over land have been known since the 17th century when the Portuguese crown introduced the “sesmarias”. With this colonial legal instrument the distribution of land for agricultural production was standardised. Over centuries the oligarchy of Pesqueira greatly increased the appropriation of Xukuru lands for their monocultures and extensive cattle breeding. That worked until the beginning of 1980 when the Xukuru started to fight for their land to be a recognised reservation.

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On 20th May 1998, the then 19-year-old Marcos had to watch as his father, the political activist and Xukuru chief Kazike Chicão, was brutally murdered in the provincial capital Pesqueira because of land-appropriation disputes with the cattle breeders, the faziendeiros. Before his murder Chief Kazike Chicão played a leading role a year earlier in the struggle over the enforcement of the establishment of the reservation and he is honoured to this day as a liberator by the Xukuru.

Ausschnitte from the Documentary: "Blutgetränkte Erde" 2006

Chicão’s son, Marcos, was prepared from childhood for his role as chief. But since he was only 19 years old at his father’s death, his mother – Dona Zenilda, who always acted behind the scenes in the indigenous male world,- and the Xukuru council considered him to be too young to take on the Xukuru leadership. Besides, Marcos’s family was being further threatened.

For reasons of security he was sent to a school in Sao Paulo and then overseas.

The Xukuru reservation commission founded by Marcos’s father also needed time to reorganise itself internally following his death and to come to terms with the history. It wanted to build a fundamentally democratic jurisdiction within the communities which elect the new 12-member Xukuru council leadership.

Three years after the assassination of Chicão, the Xukuru chief then chosen in the interim – Chico Quelé – was executed by cattle breeders at a meeting in Pesqueira – without any further criminal prosecution.

So, in 2000, Marcos was raised to the position of "Kazike" -the chief.

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Thanks to her international connections and in recognition of her involvement as adviser and international ambassador for her Xukuru tribe, Dona Zenilda Dona Zenilda, -the Matriarch- was named as one of the “1000 PeaceWomen Across The Globe” who were proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The honour to be one of the PeaceWomen gave her, then at least, a certain international protection. Despite this, she was in danger in Pesqueira and subjected to unfounded suspicions, and had to find different places to sleep every night for years.

It was only in 2004 that one of the three of Kazike Chicão’s assassins was arrested – a pistoleiro (hired killer) by the name of José Libório Galindo – and sentenced to 19 years prison.


the mastermind of the crime against Kazike Chicão, however, was the rancher José Cordeiro de Santana from Pesqueira, who had died in the meantime.

7 relatives of the then vice-president of Brazil were among the 18 faziendeiros who, before the foundation of the Xukuru territory, farmed their land using Xukuru slaves and who until today still act against them despite receiving state compensation.

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Religiöser Tourismus:

          Ursprung von Kazike Marcos heutigen Polit-Problemen

Somehow, history seems to be repeating itself. Mercenary, trigger-happy, freebooter pistoleiros used to threaten the area earlier, just as now also:


In 1936, the rumour arose in the Pesqueira community that a band of murderous lampião (a type of freebooter) was approaching the region of Cimbres, which lies at the foot of Serra do Ororubã mountain outside of Pesqueira.

To the two girls who, despite the dangerous threat, climbed to the top to pluck some papaya, there appeared „Our Lady of Grace“ and the children asked the catholic saint for protection.

The Xukuru were not – and are not – involved in the planning nor in the income opportunities of the religious tourism project.

The local researcher, Leticia Loreto Quérette, has collected old anecdotes which indicate that the children prayed to the saint to protect the city of Pesqueira also, and that the lampiãos promptly moved on without causing any harm. The good news spread quickly and, at that time, made the region a destination for pilgrims from the whole of Brazil who were seeking miracles, even when the Vatican refused to recognise this encounter.

50 years later on, the right-wing extremist bishop of Pesqueira, Dom Manoel Palmeira, accepted the testimony of both children. Together with some enterprising faziendeiros from the area and the then mayor, he entered into a religious tourism project two years before the foundation of the Xukuru reservation.


In spite of the fact that the Xukuru honour their own goddess almost at the same spot on the Ororubã mountain, they have never hindered the initially manageable stream of pilgrims.

Then the mayor planned the construction of hotels for pilgrims, and parking areas for five thousand cars and large, air-conditioned buses to bring the pilgrims directly to the pilgrimage site. All that in the area declared in 2003 as official Xukuru territory, which concerned him very little. Naturally a new church had to come as well, a museum of saints as well as the widening and asphalting of a motorway. The works were supposed to be financed officially by the Banco do Nordeste and the Inter-American Development Bank (IBD). The bishop, on the other hand, wanted to enter into it only on the condition that his church should carry out this tourism single-handedly. The entry and exit of the tourists, hotels, the buses for the masses of people, small souvenir shops with relics, all this would be in the hands of the local religious members.

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In the meantime, the original inhabitants of the now legally approved Xukuru reservation were not – and are not – involved in the planning nor in the income opportunities of the religious tourism project. In any case, they never wanted to permit large-scale new infrastructure, like the expansion of the roads and hotels, on their territory: the 12-member Xukuru council had decided much earlier to use their land which had been cleared a few centuries ago only as self-providers, otherwise this land should remain untouched. They see themselves as guardians of their Mother Nature.

The Xukuru have an ambivalent relationship to Catholicism since their forced conversion by the Portuguese more than 350 years ago. Like so many indigenous peoples they have at first secretly, and nowadays openly, mixed their own rituals with the Catholic mass and feel committed to both religions. That does not make the political situation of today any easier!

A speech by Kazike Marcos begins mostly like this: I thank first of all God and our Lady of the Serra do Ororubã, also our mother Tamain, for……

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For decades, the Xukuru were supported by the indigenous-friendly liberation theologian, bishop Dom Pedro, from the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso. But even he could not talk round the local and ecclesiastical oligarchy which was hostile to the indigenous people.


Xukuru against Xukuru: in 2003                     

                                   an attack on the young Kazike Marcos

The faziendeiros of Pesqueira, enthusiastic for tourism back then, like today, used the old tactic of driving a wedge through the Xukuru tribe: they bribed four families from the village of Cimbres in the reservation, at the starting point of the pilgrimage site.

Then, in February 2003, one of the bribed Xukuru from Cimbres – José Lourival Frazão – fired shots at young Kazike Marcos, who was behind the steering wheel of a car, and at two of his companions, wounding Marcos and bringing the car to a standstill.

Marcos’s companions were executed with shots to the head, and he himself was able to flee, although wounded and went into hiding for one day. When he returned to the village, “his Xukuru from Ororubã” had already undertaken a vengeance campaign; they had shot at two of their own Xukuru from the village of Cimbres who had been bought by the faziendeiros and there they set alight four houses and five vehicles; one of them belonged to the community of Pesqueira. The ones who were shot, survived.

Assassination of Kazike Marcos:

Excerpt from the documentary  "Blutgetränkte Erde" 2006


Afterwards there came a split with the bribed Xukuru village, which was patched up again only years later. Initially, it was only Kazike Marcos and 34 of his people who were charged with arson and disturbance of the peace.

Kazike Marcos:

“In the negotiations I have been insulted, called a drug dealer, treated with the lowest forms of aggression that a Brazilian citizen can ever experience. In the course of this, I got myself into safety after the attack where I was only wounded, and I went into hiding. When I returned to the reservation my people had already avenged the attack; I did not participate. All that happened back then simultaneously with the planning of the pilgrimage-site tourism on our land.”

Verdict 2003:

Kazike Marcos Luidson de Araújo was indicted by local legislators and their backers, and judged to have carried out “arson and disturbance of the peace” in a village within the Xukuru territory half an hour before his “own” attack. The local judge sentenced Marcos and another 34 of his Xukuru for arson. (Article 250 of the Brazilian criminal code). Marcos was not able to appeal the judgement in the courtroom, but at least the punishment was commuted to social services.

Kazike Marcos alone was also simultaneously condemned to 10 years of political exclusion (ban) according to a law called ficha limpa, a national legal instrument which was actually created to prohibit a convicted person in corruption cases from taking political office. The interpretation was suited to the will of the faziendeiros, and the political exclusion because of “arson and disturbance of the peace” was a pure arbitrariness.


In 2004 the murderer of the Xukuru who was bribed by the faziendeiros was sentenced to 12 years and 3 months for only the single murder of Kazike Marcos’s companion, and the second murder remained unpunished. The assassination attempt on Kazike Marcos also went unpunished: it was not even mentioned in the judgement, and was not further investigated.

"“All that happened at that time simultaneously with the planning of the pilgrimage-site tourism on our land.”

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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (OAS) has intervened because the state has abused the dispensation of justice against the Xukuru.

Appeal judgement of the Inter-American Commission

                                                              on Human Rights:

In 2018 the lawsuit of appeal which the Xukuru submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights achieved success; the Commission condemned the member-state Brazil (Report NO 44/15, CASE 12.728) because it had abused the dispensation of justice against the Xukuru.

The Commission pointed out to the Brazilian state that the latter is responsible for the security of life of Kazike Marcos. In February 2020, it decided that the Brazilian federal government should have to deposit one million dollars in the name of the Xukuru reservation. The Brazilian government was granted one-and-half years to reimburse the last 45 faziendeiros as they depart from the Xukuru land that they still own.

To date, nothing has happened under the right-wing populist regime of Bolsonaro.

Important members of the Xukuru still live dangerously today, also: João Natalicio Xukuru-Kariri was stabbed outside his home in 2016. No investigations … unexplained…

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pointed out to the Brazilian state that the latter is responsible for the security of life of Kazike Marcos.

Mayor Maria José, who was ousted by the voters, only denounced Cacique Marcos after losing the election.

Controversial interpretation of the "Ficha Limpa"

                                         and further threatening draft laws

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The opponent of Kazike Marcos in the battle for the office of mayor and his political agenda is the old mayor Maria José. It is not by chance that she is the wife of the former mayor of 2002, who belonged then to the driving forces behind the implementation of the religious tourism program.

Kazike Marcos has indeed legally won the contest for the office of mayor, but the loser, Maria José, has filed a suit regarding his ineligibility to stand for office, taking this action ironically only after his victory. She now maintains that she is acting in accordance with the law:

"The ineligibility of Mr. Marcos Luidson de Araújo is traceable back to his conviction by the federal judge for arson in a residential building against members of his own ethnic group, which still also stipulates ineligibility for a period of eight years following the serving of the punishment”.


"However, Kazike Marcos’s defence establishes that the statutory offense of arson (Article 250 of the Brazilian criminal code) does not fall within the area of application of the “Ficha Limpa” law, the registration of which was extinguished in accordance with the law in 2013.”


Shortly after the election at the end of November 2020, a local court nonetheless re-installed the dismissed mayor Maria José. Because he sees no chance of rectifying the judgement for the time being, Kazike Marcos has accepted it. A new case would be too expensive, with an appeal reaching further to the federal judicial authority and taking years.

As long as the present right-wing populist Bolsonaro remains in office, there will be no change in Pesqueira to the jurisdiction favouring the faziendeiros, since almost half of the population is devoted to the right-wing camp. The old-new mayor Maria José can now work further on the implementation of the religious tourism project.

Consequently, Kazike Marcos remains denied an official political function! However, “Ficha Limpa” is not his only political problem:


As one can gather from news reports, Kazike Marcos is now taking action at the national level: at the end of August 2021 he, together with his Xukuru, led a demonstration in Brasilia of 6000 indigenous people in order to demonstrate against the passing of the “Marco Temporal” law in the supreme court.

Consequently, Kazike Marcos remains denied an official political function!

"Marco Temporal"  states that an indigenous tribe only has right to land – to an indigenous territory – if it can prove that it was resident there on October 5th, 1988.

Being founded only in 1989, Kazike Marcos’s Xukuru reservation would also be affected by the annulment!

If, then, the law “PL490” is yet waved through the small chamber of the Brazilian senate by the pro-Bolsonaro faziendeiros, politicians from other camps can no longer put off the vote and that can, if need be, open a door for the new-old mayor Maria José; she would be able to proceed with her ambitious religious tourism plans on Xukuru land, she could legally force them to permit 4000 parking places, hotel, asphalting of the road and further infrastructure in their reservation.

                                                                       For more information, see:


Kazike Marcos has once more gone into hiding for security reasons, therefore his Xukuru people have resumed their regular protest demonstrations in the city of Pesqueira. Meanwhile, while almost glorified as a “saint” and honoured by his tribe like his murdered father, he will be furthermore, despite the political ban, a distinctive intercultural politician in a only slowly changing indigenous male world– he is no “saint”!

We will definitely hear from him again soon.

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2023: Kazike Marcos appointed Special Advisor 

 to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples

Like Kazike Marcos, the old-new president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also grew up in the state of Pernambuco. The local Brazilian newspaper

 now reports that President Lula has appointed alongside Sonia Guajajara "one of the country's most important indigenous leaders, -Kazike Marcos Xukuru,-" as Special Advisor of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples. Special Advisor is not an official political position, -does not have to go through an electoral process.

However, Kazike Marcos is still not allowed to become mayor, he has not been acquitted of the electoral ban law "Ficha Limpa".

                                                                                                        ( see above) 

On the other hand, President Lula's prison sentence was erased from the "Ficha Limpa" after his release so that he could be re-elected.
Special Advisor
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