On August 3, 2011 the Paraguayan government transferred 8,748 hectares (approximately 21,600 acre) of land to the Kelyenmagategma community of the Enxet people. The transfer of land was a direct response to a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2004 and, in fact, the President of the Commission, Dinah Shelton, was present when the transfer took place. According to Tierraviva para los Pueblos Indígenas del Chaco, the organization that originally filed the position, the community had been fighting for their land rights for more than a decade.
In the words of Celso Benitez, a leader of the Kelyenmagategma, “We are very happy because the State has given us land to which we have always belonged. After more than 10 years, we have finally recovered at least part of our territory. It is almost 9,000 hectares… It is not the site we asked for initially, but it is part of our ancestral territory and we therefore accept living on this piece of land.”
Another community leader, Dionisio Benítez, also expressed his happiness with the land purchase, but said the community would continue to fight to have all of its rights recognized. “We were badly mistreated by the [previous land owners], so we will continue to go to court to denounce what has happened to us. It is true that we now have our land back, but that does not mean our struggle has ended.”
On the government side, Paraguay’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Lara Castro, at the ceremony for the land transfer called the delivery of land an act of justice. He also stated that the land transfer was “a good indication of the commitment this government has towards the Indigenous people and their cultures.”
Currently, in Paraguay, there are approximately 100,000 Indigenous people comprising approximately two percent of the country’s total population. The Enxet people, traditionally, have been self-sustaining hunter-gatherer societies living in the Gran Chaco region. Over the decades, their lands have been systematically destroyed so that they can be used for ranching, thus making hunting-gathering nearly impossible in many cases.
The Kelyenmagategma specifically, consists of about 70 families who have been fighting for their land rights since at least 2000. In that time, the community has been the victim of several violent eviction attempts, and were at various points in time forced to abandon lands they were living on.
In addition to the Kelyenmagategma community, three other Exnet communities have won judgments against the Paraguayan government by taking cases to the Organization of American States. All three of those communities – Sawhoyamaxa, Xákmok Kásek, and Yakye Axa — received rulings ordering the Paraguay government to provide them with land. Thus far no land has been transferred.