Paraguay Returns Land to Indigenous Peoples of Northern Chaco

Rick Kearns
1/4/12

Closing out 2011 the Government of Paraguay made an emphasis on improving the living conditions of Indigenous Peoples that began in August and progressed with the return of 2,470 acres of land to the Enxet of Kelyenmagategma community on December 7, which was part of a larger agreement bringing the total of restored territory to the Enxet in 2011 to 24,077 acres.

The agreement, signed by Paraguay’s Solicitor General Enrique Garcia and other officials such as Lida Acuña, President of Paraguay’s Institute of the Indigenous, included the promised construction of housing, health centers, schools, roads and $500,000 of funding for development projects for the Enxet people who live in the northern Chaco region of the country.

The December restitution of land follows a more extensive agreement made in August where the government returned 21,607 acres to the same community.

According to Tierra Viva, a Paraguayan non-governmental advocacy agency that focuses on indigenous rights and issues that has been working with the Enxet for more than 20 years, the Paraguayan Government had been compelled to take action by a series of human rights lawsuits filed before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (ICHR). The December 7 agreement was signed after a series of gatherings facilitated by the ICHR, which has been involved in a variety of actions on behalf of the Enxet and other indigenous communities in Paraguay dating back to 2000.

In one of the three cases brought before the international court, the ICHR staff asserted the following in 2009: “In the present case...the State of Paraguay has denied the community its right to live freely in, at least, part of its ancestral territory, and has caused a series of grave violations of internationally protected rights...which has included the deaths of various community members.”

According to Ricardo Morinigo of Tierra Viva, there were several instances of violence committed against the Enxet by private businesses and that the Paraguayan government did not protect the community from these aggressions until after the ICHR intervened six years later. Morinigo pointed to a violent incident that led to the international response.

In September of 2004, armed employees of the Algarrobal cattle business returned to a contested area where the Enxet were living, and began firing on indigenous homes, Morinigo reported. The families fled and hid in the mountain, many of the women were wounded during the escape, and some children got lost in the wooded areas, some of them were not found until days later. The attackers burned the homes and belongings of the Enxet people who were forced to relocate the entire village, six kilometers away but still within their ancestral territory.

From that time until 2010 more attacks occurred and the community, along with Tierra Viva and other allies, approached the ICHR who visited the area in August of 2010. The severity of the persecution was highlighted for the visiting observers when one of its Commissioners, Dinah Shelton, was abducted by employees of Algarrobal. It was at that point that the Paraguayan Government stepped in and began to work out a land and rights agreement with the community, under the watch of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Moningo also stated that President Fernando Lugo publicly supported the agreement, and that the community and Tierra Viva are working on other projects to help the Enxet and other Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay.

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