An elaborate ploy by ranchers in Paraguay to trick an indigenous tribe into allowing them to build a new road that would cut their lands in half has backfired, with an official investigation now underway by the country’s Indigenous Affairs Department (INDI). Leaders of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people had been visited by the ranchers’ agents, demanding they sign a “friendly agreement” (acuerdo amistoso) allowing the ranchers to bulldoze a road through the middle of their territory. When indigenous leaders refused, the ranchers allegedly forged their signatures and sent the “agreement” to government officials. But just days later the same government office received a letter from the Ayoreo denouncing the ranchers’ strong-arm tactics. If built, the road would have facilitated escalation of the illegal forest destruction which has already ravaged much of the Ayoreo’s land, including areas inhabited by isolated or “uncontacted” bands. INDI warned in a statement that the scam “could lead to countless violations against environmental laws and against uncontacted indigenous families.”
In their statement the Ayoreo said, “We don’t want them [the ranchers] to disturb the forest. It is an important area used by our uncontacted relatives.” The Ayoreo people’s Payipie Ichadie Totobiegosode Organization (OPIT) has appealed for the government to do more to protect their land in remote Chaco region and stop the rampant, illegal deforestation. A 110,000-hectare protected area was set aside for the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode in 2001.
Stephen Corry, director of UK-based indigenous advocacy group Survival International, said, “It’s outrageous these ranchers thought they could get away with such a ploy. The Ayoreo have made it clear they will not be conned into giving away their land rights.” (Survival International, Ecoticias, June 14; Antropylogia, June 28, 2009)