World Rainforest Movement

Paraguay: Ayoreo-Totobiegosode endangered by a cattle ranching company

Between 1959 and 1987, a great majority of the Ayoreo from Paraguay (see WRM Bulletin No. 96) were contacted by force and deported to places outside their vast ancestral territories. They were also displaced from their lands taken over for farming activities. This situation has submitted them to a high degree of dependency on the religious missions and the regional market.

At present, there are more than 2000 members of the Ayoreo ethnic group who live sedentarily in 13 settlements – ten communities in Bolivia and 3 in Paraguay. All these settlements are located outside their traditional habitat. Their culture is increasingly influenced and hindered by the model of modern life, which has barely left them a marginal space, insufficient to discern and to reshape their path towards the future.

There is only one local group, the Totobiegosode, still living in the forest, without contact with other Ayoreos or foreigners, in an area known as Amotocodie in the North of the Paraguayan Chaco. They live nomadically, hunting, gathering fruit and honey, fishing and cultivating small plots which they plant “on the go,” during the rainy season. They constitute, with their habitat – high and low forests, palm groves, open fields, dry riverbeds, streams, and lagoons – an inseparable unit and live communally. Although no one has any direct contact with them, their existence can be felt and verified by signs of presence such as footprints and holes in trees that show that they have been harvesting honey. In some cases, they have even been seen in the distance.

Most of the territory inhabited by groups in voluntary isolation is in the hands of private owners: Paraguayans and foreigners, large-scale farmers and investors, individuals and companies. Less than 10% of the territory corresponds to Parks or National Protected Areas. The clearcutting of primary forests to install cattle ranches substantially depleted territories inhabited by the indigenous groups, cutting them off in isolated patches, divided by belts with no forest cover and increasingly busy roads. The forest groups can no longer travel along their annual migratory routes and access parts of the habitat that are vital for their life and survival.

The accelerated expansion of the frontiers of western civilization in the North of the Paraguayan Chaco is a threat both to the Ayoreo groups in voluntary isolation and to the still vast forests with which they co-exist.

At present, they are facing a serious and imminent danger. The Paraguayan organization, Iniciativa Amotocodie – which is endeavouring to accompany uncontacted groups from “outside” and from a distance – has denounced that a company called Ganadera UMBU S.A. purchased 40,000 hectares of pristine forests in the centre of Amotocodie. Of these, 24,000 hectares will be deforested to install cattle ranches. They already have the corresponding permits and work could start at any time now. With clearcutting, it is highly probable that there will be contact with groups in isolation. This seriously violates human rights and the life of these groups that have always lived there. – Furthermore, according to the warning by Iniciativa Amotocodie, this could lead to a bloodbath, as has already happened on other occasions.

Iniciativa Amotocodie has taken all the pertinent legal measures, but has not managed to halt the clearcutting project so far. For their part, the Ayoreo, through UNAP (the Union of Paraguayan Native Ayoreo), have put pressure on the authorities and have made this serious situation public.

A campaign has been organized to try to halt what the Ayoreo define as an “attack” against the life of their people in the forest and the future of their people. Iniciativa Amotocodie’s web page contains an invitation to send a letter to the appropriate Paraguayan authorities. To make it easier, the letter has already been drafted (in English: http://www.iniciativa-amotocodie.org/actual/files/letter_grave_amenaza.pdf) and all that has to be done is to return it to the names and addresses that appear at the foot of the letter.

The Ayoreo are determined to fight for the integrity of their brothers and sisters in the forest and for the ancestral territory of the Ayoreo People, looking towards a future where restoration of what is theirs – both lost territories and their model of ancestral life – has started to take on a meaning. The groups in voluntary isolation give testimony of a paradigm of a relationship with nature that used to be practiced by all the indigenous peoples, but which they have had to abandon. This paradigm serves as a vital reflection on the history of these ethnic groups and as a source of inspiration in the search for alternatives for survival and for the future.

Article based on: “Grave Amenaza en Amotocodie”, Iniciativa Amotocodie, http://www.iniciativa-amotocodie.org/actual/20070425_graveamenaza.html; information sent by Guadalupe Rodríguez, Rettet den Regenwald (Salva la Selva Tropical), e-mail: guadalupe@regenwald.org, http://www.regenwald.org/international/spanisch/; Atlas de las Comunidades Indígenas en el Paraguay, ttp://www.dgeec.gov.py/Publicaciones/Biblioteca/
Web%20Atlas%20Indigena/171%20Plantilla%20Ayoreo%20toto.pdf