Talks begin over fate of uncontacted Paraguayan tribe

By agency reporter
March 30, 2017

Efforts to protect the territory of a vulnerable uncontacted tribe from rampant illegal deforestation have received a boost with the opening of talks between the Paraguayan government and tribal representatives.

The uncontacted Ayoreo are the last uncontacted Indians outside the Amazon. Their territory, in western Paraguay, has the highest deforestation rate in the world.

Contacted members of the tribe submitted a formal land claim in 1993, with support from local organisation  Gente, Ambience y Territorio (GAT). Since then vast swathes of their forest have been destroyed.

The talks are the result of a formal request, submitted by  GAT to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), for the land be returned to its rightful indigenous owners. Government representatives will meet monthly with Ayoreo leaders for one year, in a process overseen by a UN official.

The Ayoreo’s territory is occupied by a number of companies that are deforesting the land to make way for cattle. These include Brazilian ranching enterprise Yaguarete Porá S.A and Carlos Casado S.A (a subsidiary of Spanish construction company Grupo San José).

An unknown number of Ayoreo remain uncontacted, says Survival International, the global movemetn for tribal peoples' rights. They live on the run, fleeing the rapid destruction of their forest home.

Many, however, have already been forced out of their territory by outsiders. A number of them have contracted a mysterious TB-like disease which has killed several members of the tribe.

In February 2016, the IACHR issued an emergency injunction ordering the Paraguayan government to stop any further deforestation and protect the vulnerable uncontacted Indians living in the region. The government, however, has not complied with the order. A recent satellite image shows that in 2016, the forests were still being cleared.

Survival describes tribal people as the best guardians of their environment and points to evidence proving that tribal territories are the best barrier to deforestation.  Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “The government has ignored the Ayoreo for far too long. If real progress is not made this year, their uncontacted relatives could soon be wiped out. The Ayoreo are best placed to protect their forest homes. Destroying the Ayoreo will also destroy some of the most biodiverse land in Paraguay.”

The UN has found that the Ayoreo are in a ‘state of emergency’ and has warned that the government’s failure to return the land to its rightful owners puts the Indians’ lives in great danger. The Ayoreo land is part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

* Survival International http://www.survivalinternational.org/

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