Paraguay: Addressing the Indigenous People Concerns

By Sr. Francisca Florentin Garcete, SSpS

The Holy Spirit Indigenous Pastoral of Paraguay organized a virtual meeting with its partner of VIVAT International on September 30, 2021. The meeting was held at the right time, and it was very hopeful by considering the problematic social situation the indigenous communities are facing in Paraguay.

Thirty-five attendees participated in the meeting, including bishops, priests, laity, anthropologists, lawyers, and SSpS sisters from Paraguay, England, and Ireland. In addition, the religious leaders and members of the Ava Guarani community from Paraguay joined the meeting along with representatives from Misean Cara, St. Gabriel Mission Procure, and VIVAT team from Rome, New York, and Geneva offices.

The meeting began with a prayer of the Ava Guarani ritual led by a group of indigenous people.

The purpose of the meeting was to share information and discuss the current situation affecting the indigenous people of the Avá Guaraní communities in Paraguay. The indigenous communities have increased vulnerability due to settlers and agro-business companies occupying their ancestral lands. Brazilian settlers and companies go hand in hand to defeat indigenous people’s lands to expand soybeans, wheat, and other crops.

Dam project development forcibly excluded the indigenous communities from their territories. A participant representing the Avá Guaraní communities said that before construction of the Itaipú hydroelectric dam, 37 indigenous communities inhibited on the banks of the Paraná River that provided everything they needed for livelihood. Still, they all are now evicted and distributed in different places. They hope to return to their homeland and territories.

Currently, 94% of the cultivated land in Paraguay is used for agro-industrial crops destined for the international market, while less than 6% of the land is for peasant agriculture. The increase in agribusiness implies an expansion of the agricultural frontier and the expansion of livestock, which requires pastures and open fields. These two activities require new land, which would be related to increased levels of deforestation. This expansion is currently taking place in the ancestral territory of numerous indigenous peoples. Due to land grabbing, which promotes forced eviction and criminalization to continue growing, this incessant forced expulsion has caused the displaced indigenous population to the cities, urban poverty belts, and the urban poor. More and more indigenous people survive on the streets and in urban conglomerates.

The main problem is non-compliance with the laws. In Paraguay, there are enough laws, but the Paraguay authorities don’t follow them because of lacking political will. The justice system and public Prosecutor’s Office don’t work. Corruption is widespread in the country.

In the almost two-hour meeting, the representatives of indigenous people expressed their concern and suffering from many incidents and evictions. They raised the issues of land grabbing with the increasing invasion of cattle ranching and agricultural projects.

The meeting concluded with forming a working group to discuss a long-term strategic advocacy plan to address Paraguay’s indigenous people issues. It composes of the Paraguay team and the representatives of VIVAT International and Misean Cara.

We are deeply grateful to VIVAT International and Misean Cara, bishops, and all the participants in general for their interest and support. They are committed to accompanying Paraguay’s indigenous communities in their tireless efforts to look for justice and protect their ancestral lands.