Enduring Evictions of the Cerrito Indigenous Community

Paul Rahmat

The indigenous people in Paraguay continually live in danger as their houses and land properties are destroyed and occupied by agribusiness companies with the support of the Homeland police forces. Many become homeless due to being forcibly removed from their homes and territories. For years, the Cerrito community of the Ava Guarani people have experienced this “memoria passionis,” a human-made disaster.

An Ongoing eviction and forced removal

Since 2021, the Cerrito community has been evicted three times. On May 13, 2021, approximately 1,000 police officers came to evict 85 Ava Guarani indigenous families. They destroyed houses, crops, wells, and sacred temples, killed people’s live stocks, and burned their clothes. They demolished their buildings to make way to cultivate soybeans for the international market.

The second eviction occurred on November 29, 2021. Around 300 polices forces who accompanied the prosecutor came to evict the Ava Guarani people. They forcibly removed elders, children, and pregnant women. Then, they demolished the temple and houses, together with utensils and food. The police shot people’s animals, collapsed their homes, and destroyed water wells. They left a group of armed police officers to intimidate people and prevent them from returning to their community. Then, more than 20 tractors came to the people’s farms to destroy their crops and began to prepare for the cultivation of soybeans. The police forces keep guarding the machines while working. People have been left with nothing on the roadside, without protection, shelter, or livelihood. They were very vulnerable and defenseless.

The Cerrito people continue to be displaced forcibly from their homes and ancestral lands. On May 19, 2022, a large police force silently came into the district of Minga Porâ as people were sleeping. The police shot in the air, and at the same time, they brutally entered residents’ houses with their weapons in their hands. It made people panic and terrified. They were forced to leave their homes and took all their identity documents, cards, and cellular phones. Once the indigenous people forcibly fled, they brought many tractor machines with a shovel to demolish people’s houses and the temple (or Jeroky Aty) and made their belongings flat on the ground. They also killed people’s livestock and plugged their water wells.

The eviction and forced removal of the Cerrito communities in Paraguay demonstrated the absence of the state to protect indigenous people’s rights despite the country’s constitution recognizing and guaranteeing it. The forced displacement put the indigenous people into extreme poverty and marginalization.

VIVAT International’s Assistance

The SSpS sisters, who have been accompanying the Ava Guarani communities for 45 years, asked VIVAT International to assist the indigenous people in their struggles to defend their rights to the lands and territories. On September 30, 2021, Sr. Francisca Florentin Garcete SSpS called for a special meeting to discuss the indigenous people’s concerns and struggles in Paraguay. The meeting was attended by indigenous people leaders of Ava Guarani communities, church leaders in Paraguay, and representatives of VIVAT International.

Since then, VIVAT International has constantly raised the Paraguay indigenous people’s concerns through the UN human rights mechanisms in Geneva and New York. Working with the indigenous people, the SSpS sisters, and the Paraguay team, VIVAT international has brought the Paraguay case to the attention of the United Nations.

On December 9, 2021, VIVAT International made an urgent appeal by asking the UN special rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples to communicate with the Paraguay government. “We ask you, in the capacity of your mandates to send a communication to the government of Paraguay to allow the Ava Guarani of Cerrito community to legalize their land due to existing law.” It also urged the government of Paraguay to “allow for children and youth to have easier access to education and ensure people have access to health care, especially for children and women.”

On March 21, 2022, VIVAT International raised the concerns of the Cerrito people at the 49 sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Under the assistance of Andrzej Owca, VIVAT International Representative, a leader of the Ava Guarani Community, Mr. Martin Venialgo Gonzales delivered an oral statement. “As part of the Ava Guarani community, I would like to share our extreme anxiety because of the human rights violations committed against us. In 2021, eleven of our communities were evicted, displacing 500 families without any resources to live. Every day we live in uncertainty that our community will be evicted. This situation generates anxiety and diminishes hope of a dignified future for our families,” said Mr. Gonzales. Furthermore, he recommended that the government of Paraguay comply with the regulations that protect us and stop all the evictions.

VIVAT International also raised the issue of the Paraguay Indigenous People from the Ava Guarani community at the 21st session of the UN People Forum on Indigenous Issues 2022. On May 3, 2022, VIVAT International, the New York office, held an online webinar highlighting the theme: “For Indigenous Peoples, preserving “home,” culture, and community is a human right.” VIVAT invited two speakers from Paraguay – Angela Balbuena SSpS and Jorge Asvin. They spoke up about the Cerrito people’s concerns about being forcibly removed from their homes and ancestral lands.

VIVAT International continue to assist the indigenous people from the Ava Guarani communities in Paraguay, who have suffered a lot from evictions and forced removal, in their struggles to return “homeland” and take back their territories.