Paraguay: ranchers threaten uncontacted peoples

An urgent plea for the protection of the lands of uncontacted indigenous peoples in the Gran Chaco, a region of scrub forest and arid plains in western Paraguay, has been issued by nine local organizations after round-table talks sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme. The Totobiegosode, a sub-group of the Ayoreo, are living in voluntary isolation as Brazilian cattle ranchers encroach on their territory.

“The presence of the uncontacted Totobiegosode [in the forest] is proof that it is, and always has been, their land,” says a statement from the nine organizations. “The invasion of that land by a company and its deforestation and destruction constitutes an aggression against the tribe and the appropriation of their property. The Paraguayan state, in accordance with the national constitution and international norms…must meet its obligation to return the Totobiegosode’s land to them in one piece, not in fragments.”

The Totobiegosode’s land is being destroyed by two Brazilian companies wanting to graze cattle for beef: Yaguarete Pora and River Plate. The number of uncontacted Totobiegosode is unknown, but some of them have relatives who have already been contacted. These Totobiegosode have been trying to protect the last substantial part of their territory since 1993 when they filed a legal claim for 5,500 square kilometers.

The nine local organizations include OPIT (the organization of those Totobiegosode who have already been contacted) and GAT, a local support group. Survival International director Stephen Corry said, “The government must heed the demands of the Totobiegosode and the local organizations working in their support. It must recognize the Totobiegosode as the legal owners of their land and ensure the Brazilian companies can’t work there.” (Survival International, March 10)

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