• Indigenous peoples in Paraguay

    Indigenous peoples in Paraguay

    There are 19 indigenous peoples in Paraguay. Although Paraguay has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the fundamental rights of the country’s indigenous peoples are continuously violated. They are especially challenged by structural discrimination and lack of economic, social, and cultural rights.

The Indigenous World 2024: Paraguay

According to the preliminary results of the National Population and Housing Census conducted in 2022, the Indigenous population comprises some 140,206 people who state that they belong to one of 19 Indigenous Peoples. This represents 2.29% of Paraguay’s total population.[1]

In his inaugural speech in April 2023, Santiago Peña, president-elect, did not devote a single word to Indigenous Peoples, nor to their ancestral land claims.

It was against this backdrop that, according to media reports, less than 1% of the eligible candidates running in the 2023 general elections were Indigenous.[2]

During elections, Indigenous Peoples have historically been exposed to practices such as containment, vote buying and welfarism, and this has reduced their participation.

Nevertheless, increased awareness in some communities has brought to the fore the real possibility – albeit with limited resources – of increased Indigenous activism, something that is so necessary in a democratic context.

Among the existing opportunities, worthy of note are the participation of three women candidates who ran for seats in the legislature: Ángela Sales and Tania Vera, from the Ava Guaraní people, and Ana Romero, from the Guaraní people. The former ran for the Senate and the latter two for the Chamber of Deputies; although there were other Indigenous women candidates,[3] none of these women were elected.

In addition, Miguel Fulgencio Rodríguez, a senator and member of the Senate’s Indigenous Peoples Commission, has proposed a law which, although not yet finalized, would reserve four seats (two for the eastern region and two for the western region) exclusively for representatives of the Indigenous Peoples.


Violations of Indigenous rights in 2023

In July, several families of the Mbya Guaraní people travelled to the Paraguayan Indigenous Institute (INDI) to protest at the lack of a response to their requests for land and food parcels.[4] This kind of protest was to occur on several occasions throughout 2023. Families are living in their communities without access to the most basic living conditions.

Faced with this problem, INDI publicly declared that, as State officials, they were “the number one defenders of private property”,[5] far removed from their mandate to advocate for substantive equality and to remove obstacles in favour of Indigenous Peoples.

In addition to these cases there was a complaint of torture made by a teacher, Silvestre Aguilera, from the Indigenous community of San Carlos del Pueblo Angaité, for which police officers from the Tenth Police Station of Concepción were allegedly responsible, on 25 January 2023. The teacher stated that he had gone to the police station to obtain his living and residency certificate for work purposes but had ended up being subjected to degrading acts, such as being forced to kneel “as a sign of respect” to a non-commissioned officer, while other police officers looked on.

He filed a complaint about these acts with the Special Human Rights Unit of the Public Prosecutor's Office. Despite the complaint, however, no charges have yet been filed. The alleged perpetrators have been fully identified by the victim.[6]

Threat of environmental plundering of Indigenous ancestral territory

On 23 June 2023, the Chamber of Deputies discussed a possible amendment to the law establishing the protected wild area status of the Médanos del Chaco National Park, home to and ancestral sacred place of the Guaraní Ñandéva and Ayoreo peoples,[7] in order to enable private companies to prospect a large area of the park in search of hydrocarbons.

The Médanos del Chaco is a unique biome, with a fauna and flora of invaluable biodiversity that protects the Yrenda freshwater aquifer in the Chaco region. Some of the Ayoreo people living in voluntary isolation and also some of the Guaraní Ñandéva people live on the lands that would be prospected.[8]

The voices of Indigenous and non-indigenous communities and organizations alike were raised in opposition to this extractivist ambition.[9] They called out the lack of any basis in the statements on possible gas exploitation, and noted the failure to implement a process of free, prior and informed consultation with the affected peoples, in contravention of the provisions of Art. 6 of Law No. 234/93, “Approving ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries”, and Law No. 352/94 “On Protected Wildlife Areas”.

Consent given in a free, prior and informed process is binding, whether it is positive or negative, as established by Decree No. 1039/18 regulating Law No. 234 establishing the Consultation Protocol.

The failure to implement this process did not, however, prevent the initiative from being considered in parliament. The project was finally rejected but the developers maintain that they will push for it again.[10]

Violations of the sacred lands of the Pai Tavytera people and other communities

In the first few days of August 2023, violent incidents were once again reported in which strangers entered Tekoha Guasu Yvypyte, the ancestral land of the Pai Tavytera people in the department of Amambay, district of Cerro Corá, with the aim of forcibly removing members of the Indigenous community.[11]

The situation in this department is complex because the area is militarized and unauthorized people are engaging in hugely violent land invasions.

Similar events have been reported in previous Codehupy reports and, according to the National Police, the protagonists of these shootings in the sacred place of the Pai Jasuka Venda are members of criminal gangs belonging to the EPP (Paraguayan People's Army). They are resulting in the deaths of Indigenous people and anxiety among the population.

On 22 October 2023, alleged invaders beat the spiritual leader of Yvypyte, Arnaldo Benítez Vargas, to death. He had already been threatened on several previous occasions. FAPI (Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas) called on the Paraguayan State to urgently investigate this murder, punish those responsible and safeguard the community’s legalized ancestral lands.[12]

Despite countless efforts made by a number of organizations and the Pai Tavytera people, this situation of extreme violence still persists without the relevant authorities – INDI, the Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor's Office – having taken any definitive action to seek a solution to the disturbances to which the Pai people are being subjected.

On 11 August 2023, the Tekoha Kola'i Indigenous community in Corpus Christi district of Canindeyú was also subjected to an attack by armed individuals who have been carrying out violent attempts to dispossess them of their territory.[13]

In addition, the case of the Tekoha Sauce community of the Ava Guaraní People, evicted from their ancestral lands since 1970 to make way for the construction of the Itaipu hydroelectric power plant, was still not conclusively resolved during 2023. The systematic violation of their rights persists.[14]

Reports of invasions of Indigenous lands

In September 2022, the Payseyamexyempa'a Indigenous community of the Enxet people, composed of the villages of Colonia 96 and Buena Vista, filed a complaint for land invasion.[15] The community took the necessary steps to protect their rights by filing a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office of Pozo Colorado and the Special Environmental Unit of Villa Hayes. However, this complaint was not handled with the necessary diligence or speed to remedy the conflict.

In fact, it emerged that the substantive regulation commonly known as the “Zavala Riera” Law[16] was not being applied equally given that the Pozo Colorado Public Prosecutor's Office only acted following an audit request filed on 9 August 2023 by an Indigenous organization, almost a year after the complaint had been filed.

The Coordinating Body of Leaders of Bajo Chaco requested an audit on the actions carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the complaint. The Prosecutor then registered the complaint on 15 September 2023. However, the punishable act has not ceased and the alleged offender has not been charged.

Likewise, in January 2023, the Naranhaty Indigenous community of the Enxet People, in the department of Concepción, filed a complaint for land invasion committed by persons unknown. The Prosecutor's Office has taken no measures to protect the community to date.[17]

This lack of speed on the part of the Public Prosecutor's Office, together with the failure to initiate substantive proceedings in response to reports of violent evictions and arrests of people from Indigenous communities[18] demonstrates the selective application of the “Zavala Riera” Law during the period of this report.

Violence, maternal deaths, suicide and a lack of mental health care

The proportion of the Indigenous population living in poverty in 2017 was 66.2%, almost three times more than the national average. In rural areas, where the majority of Indigenous people live, the rate is even higher and stands at 68%.[19]

Indigenous poverty disproportionately affects children, youth and women. 67.7% of women live in poverty, compared to 64.6% of men. By age range, children and adolescents from 0 to 17 years of age are most affected, since 73.7% of this group lives in poverty. The percentage is even higher (75.7%) for children and adolescents living in rural areas.[20],[21]

With regard to pregnancies among young girls and adolescents, the General Directorate of Strategic Health Information reported that there were 71 cases of live births to Indigenous mothers aged 10 to 14 years in 2018.[22] Likewise, in 2021, 96 and in 2022, 84 cases of live births to Indigenous mothers between 10 and 14 years of age were reported.

When we speak of child mothers, we are referring to cases of sexual abuse committed presumably mostly by adults. This should be receiving special attention from the national child protection system.

Indigenous demands: march on 12 October 2023

On 12 October 2023, the Indigenous movement mobilized some 1,500 people from different regions and communities, who gathered in the Plaza de las Mujeres in the capital city to call for the demands of the Indigenous Peoples to be met. In addition, some 1,000 people blocked the road at the Pozo Colorado intersection with the road to Concepción, Presidente Hayes department, and other rallies were reported in different parts of the country.

In the wake of this mobilization, Interior Minister Enrique Riera, INDI President Marlene Ocampos and other government representatives signed an agreement with representatives of the Indigenous organizations to address the demands in an inter-institutional manner.[23]

The different Indigenous Peoples of Paraguay thus came together to express their collective strength and to state that “Band-Aid” solutions to their just demands for land, autonomy and participation would no longer be accepted.[24]

Conclusion

Although this electoral year resulted in a certain Indigenous activism likely to promote enforceability, the balance for 2023 shows that the different peoples’ participation in the political life of the country still has a long way to go from the point of view of plurality and interculturality. The State still has much to do to smooth out the obstacles that result in the exclusion of Indigenous people from electoral processes, not to mention its obligation to promote spaces for democratic discussion.

During 2023, situations involving the legal and structural discrimination of the rights of Indigenous Peoples were evident. And yet the judgement obtained in the Hugua Po'i civil and commercial case in relation to the application of Law No. 43/89 sets an important precedent in terms of recognizing claims to ancestral lands and territories owned by Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay.[25]

Moreover, the Indigenous movement continues to raise its voice loudly, demanding compliance with international standards and the legal and constitutional obligations of the Republic of Paraguay, since “Band-Aid” solutions will only result in the persistence of conditions incompatible with human dignity.

 

 

Natalia Rodríguez is a human rights lawyer and member of Tierraviva's legal team. This article is based on a longer article by the same author, available at: https://www.codehupy.org.py/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/INFORME-ANUAL-DDHH-2023.pdf

 

This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here

 

Notes and references

[1] Compared to the 2012 census figure (1.8%), there has been a growth in the Indigenous population of 0.49%. See: National Government. “Pueblos Indígenas en el Paraguay Resultados Finales de Población y Viviendas 2012.” December 2014.

https://www.ine.gov.py/Publicaciones/Biblioteca/indigena2012/Pueblos%20indigenas%20en%20el%20Paraguay%20Resultados%20Finales%20de%20Poblacion%20y%20Viviendas%202012.pdf

[2] Ultima Hora. “Elecciones 2023: Del total de candidatos, menos del 1% son indígenas.” 1 April 2023. https://www.ultimahora.com/elecciones-2023-del-total-candidatos-menos-del-1-son-indigenas-n3055727

[3] International IDEA. “Participación política de los pueblos indígenas en Paraguay.” 2023. https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/2023-11/participacion-politica-pueblos-indigenas-en-paraguay.pdf

[4] Ultima Hora. “Indígenas protestan frente al Indi y cierran la avenida Artigas.” 24 July 2023. https://www.ultimahora.com/indigenas-protestan-frente-al-indi-y-cierran-la-avenida-artigas

[5] Caaguazu Al DIA. “Basilio Franco Riós asesor jurídico de INDI.” Facebook, 29 November 2021.

https://www.facebook.com/100063830375180/videos/basilio-franco-ri%C3%B3s-aesor-juridico-de-indien-esta-ma%C3%B1ana-estuvo-representante-en/403608531403741/

[6] Case No. 08/2023: “Commissioner Leonardo Maidana and others re. Torture”, Special Human Rights Unit of the Public Prosecutor's Office, Asunción.

[7] BASE Investigaciones Sociales. “Explotación de los Médanos del Chaco: más extractivismo, menos soberanía.” 20 June 2023. https://www.baseis.org.py/extractivismo-o-soberania-energetica/

[8] World Wildlife Fund. “Parque Nacional Médanos del Chaco.” 17 July 2023. https://www.wwf.org.py/?384231/Parque-Nacional-Medanos-del-Chaco/

[9] Tierraviva. “Comunidades Indígenas rechazan proyecto de explotación del Parque Médanos del Chaco.” https://www.tierraviva.org.py/comunidades-indigenas-rechazan-proyecto-de-explotacion-del-parque-medanos-del-chaco/. Last accessed: 12 September 2023.

[10] Made in Paraguay. “Cartismo seguirá amenazando al Parque Nacional Médanos del Chaco.” 21 June 2023. https://madeinparaguay.net/noticia/cartismo-seguira-amenazando-al-parque-nacional-medanos-del-chaco-1515

[11] Ultima Hora. “Civiles armados amenazan con vender tierras indígenas.” 28 February 2023. https://www.ultimahora.com/civiles-armados-amenazan-vender-tierras-indigenas-n3050970

[12] Adelante. “Invasores asesinan a líder Paĩ Tavyterã en Amambay.” 24 October 2023. https://adelantenoticias.com/2023/10/24/invasores-asesinan-ybypyte/

[13] Ultima Hora. “Desconocidos atacan a tiros a comunidad indígena en Canindeyú.” 11 August 2023. https://www.ultimahora.com/desconocidos-atacan-a-tiros-a-comunidad-indigena-en-canindeyu

[14] FAPI. “FAPI remite nota a la UNESCO en relación a Comunidad Sauce.” Last accessed: 12 September 2023. https://fapi.org.py/la-fapi-remite-nota-a-la-unesco-en-relacion-a-la-comunidad-indigena-tekoha-sauce/

[15] Case No. 430/2022: “Unnamed persons re. invasion of another’s property”, pending before Ordinary Fiscal Unit No. 1 of Pozo Colorado.

[16] Law No. 6830/2021, “Modifying Art. 142 of the Penal Code”, stiffens penalties in cases of trespass.

[17] Case No. 41/2023: “Unknown persons re. invasion of another’s property”, pending before Ordinary Fiscal Unit No. 2 of Pozo Colorado.

[18] According to an investigation by BASE-IS, during the period of Abdo Benítez's government from 2020 to 2023, there were 36 cases of forced evictions and/or intimidation, repression or aggression by the police force and/or armed civilians. See: BASE Investigaciones Sociales. “36 casos de violencia contra comunidades indígenas en los últimos años.” 13 June 2023. https://www.baseis.org.py/36-casos-de-violencia-contra-comunidades-indigenas-en-los-ultimos-anos/

[19] Imas, Víctor, “Monitoreo de la implementación del Sistema de Protección Social en Comunidades Indígenas del Paraguay”. Informe preliminar, año 1, Diakonía-Tierraviva-Sunu, August 2023.

[20] Permanent Household Survey, 2017.

[21] In view of these percentages, it is worth analyzing the results of the National Poverty Reduction Plan (PNRP) Jajapo Paraguay, implemented by the government of Mario Abdo Benítez with a 2030 timeframe. The PNRP document had a participatory methodology in its design, including Indigenous and peasant representatives. See: UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “Plan nacional de reducción de la pobreza.” May 2020. https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/par205031.pdf

[22] Imas, Víctor, “Monitoreo de la implementación del Sistema de Protección Social en Comunidades Indígenas del Paraguay”. Informe preliminar, año 1, Diakonía-Tierraviva-Sunu, August 2023.

[23] INDI. “La Presidenta del INDI Marlene Ocampos participó de la firma del acta compromiso con organizaciones indígenas.” 13 October 2023. https://www.indi.gov.py/index.php/noticias/la-presidenta-del-indi-marlene-ocampos-participo-de-la-firma-del-acta-compromiso-con-organizaciones-indigenas

[24] ABC. “Indígenas marcharán en el microcentro de Asunción por el ‘Diá de la Resistencia’.” 12 October 2023. https://www.abc.com.py/nacionales/2023/10/12/indigenas-marcharan-en-el-microcentro-de-asuncion-por-el-dia-de-la-resistencia/

[25] The Court refused to lift the civil precautionary measures obtained by INDI, in favour of the Indigenous community, from the petitioner and owner of the Tres Palmas company, which had obtained title to the ancestral land prior to these measures.

Tags: Land rights, Women, Human rights, Protest

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