Ranchers in Paraguay who tried to trick an indigenous tribe into signing away their land have got their comeuppance.
The ranchers wanted legal access to land of the Ayoreo, who live in the northern Gran Chaco, the vast semi-arid plain stretching into Bolivia. They wanted to build a road which would have cut lands in half and threatened uncontacted tribal members. The Ayoreo say: “We don’t want them [the ranchers] to disturb the forest. It is an important area used by our uncontacted relatives.”
Ranchers’ agents visited and permission was refused — so they allegedly forged signatures on documents sent to the government. But just days later the same government office received a letter from Ayoreo organization OPIT denouncing the ranchers’ strong-arm tactics.
Paraguay’s Department for Indian Affairs (INDI) has denounced the scam, saying it “could lead to countless violations against environmental laws and against uncontacted indigenous families.”
Brazilian owned companies River Plate S.A. and BBC S.A have both been previously caught illegally clearing land that belongs to the Ayoreo. Satellite images from 2011 revealed their brazen destruction of almost 4,000 hectares of forest inhabited by uncontacted Indians, and led to the companies being charged with illegal deforestation.
Amnesty International’s latest report on Paraguay said there has been progress in resolving land claims of indigenous communities in 2011. However, the lack of an effective mechanism for complaints relating to traditional land remains a concern.
Last year the government reached an agreement with a landlord for the return of land to the Yakye Axa, following a significant victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). The government has also signed an an agreement to start the process of returning land to the Sawhoyamaxa community and has formally recognized the land claims of Kelyenmagategma.
The government last year indicted on various charges, including “breach of trust,” four members of the Amotocodie Initiative (IA), an NGO who say they are working to protect the Ayoreo. IA are opposed to a British organized scientific expedition called “Dry Chaco 2010″ which they think could harm the rights of isolated indigenous people. However, UNAP, the Union of Native Ayoreos of Paraguay, say they were lied to about the expedition and not properly consulted.
It has only been 25 years since the last manhunt of Ayoreos, in which the US-based fundamentalist missionary organization the New Tribes Mission was closely involved.
Picture courtesy Survival International