On August 23rd, Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, went on record to condemn the fact that Paraguay’s last uncontacted Indigenous group – the Totobiegosode people (a sub-group of the Ayoreo people) — are at risk because corporate cattle ranchers are disregarding orders to stop deforestation. Specifically, two beef companies, BBC S.A and River Plate S.A, have been caught illegally clearing land twice this year alone. Despite fines levied against them in June, and orders to halt clearing any land, Survival International reports that the companies have started illegal deforestation yet again. Many Ayoreo people are at risk of losing their land and homes, but of particular concern are the Totobiegosode people who want no contact from the outside world — a wish their other Ayoreo relatives are trying to protect.
The ongoing illegal activities in the Chaco is something IndigenousNews.org reported on just a few weeks ago. Since that time, however, updates on the situation in the Chaco have not been positive for the Ayoreo people. As Corry put it, “It is an embarrassing state of affairs when a national government allows itself to be held to ransom by a small group of unscrupulous businessmen. The Paraguay administration should reassert its authority by recognising and upholding the Ayoreo’s right to the ownership of their land and resources.”
Specifically, the ransom Corry is referring to is the fact that the corporate farmers will only agree to stop deforesting the land in question, if the Paraguayan government will grant them permits to clear-cut nearby lands. According to reports, although the Paraguayan government obviously has sovereign authority over its territories, in reality, it is the companies that have de facto power in the Chaco region.
The reason for the Paraguayan government’s inability to control the region appears to have, at least partially, a political component to it. According to a report on September 3rd from ABC Digital, Jorge Vera, the general coordinator of the Paraguayan organization, “People, Environment, and Territory” (GAT, in Spanish), claims that while the President and executive branch are trying to protect Indigenous rights, the companies involved in the deforestation currently have powerful allies in the judicial and legislative branches.
Meanwhile, outside of Paraguay, there is evidence that other international bodies aren’t taking the Ayoreo peoples’ claims with enough seriousness. In May, Ayoreo leaders submitted a complaint to the UN Global Compact, an initiative designed to persuade corporations to comply with human rights principles. The UN’s response was simply to state that they lacked the resources or mandate to address the issue. The one action they did take, however, was to write the company involved in that complaint – Yaguarete Porá S.A — and ask them to remove the Global Compact logo from their website. The company complied briefly, but the logo recently reappeared on their site. That said, to date there has been no further response from the UN to the Ayoreo’s complaint.
And as each day passes, more forest is cut down. According to satellite images, 10% of Paraguay’s portion of the Chaco has been cut down in the last four years alone — with the vast majority of that land being used for cattle grazing. Furthermore, by some estimates, the Chaco in Paraguay could be completely destroyed in less than twenty years. Were this to occur, it would mark the loss of the traditional homelands of the Ayoreo and at least five other Indigenous peoples in Paraguay.