Paraguayan Indigenous Blockade International Highway
The Ayoreo people of northern Paraguay shut down an international highway in late July after alleging that ranchers and others had illegally invaded their territory.
The Native people of the northern Chaco forest had blockaded a section of the Trans-Chaco highway, part of the continental Panamerican highway in protest over the invasions, and asserted they would continue their protests until the ranchers and others were removed. The Trans-Chaco highway connects Paraguay to Bolivia.
By early August a judge had temporarily suspended the illegal works being done on Ayoreo land until the case is finally decided by government authorities, according to Survival International (SI) and other sources.
While most of the original Ayoreo territory is now occupied by non-indigenous Paraguayans and some Brazilians, the government of Paraguay has returned some parcels of land to the Ayoreo and the larger Guarani communities. The 37,000-acre tract in question was granted to the Ayoreo’s in 1993.
According to SI, the invasion of the Ayoreo parcel was well organized.
“The farmers and their workers have erected cattle fences and bulldozed wide tracks, and claim that the land belongs to them. They were guarded by police, to prevent any attempt on the Ayoreos’ part to stop the work,” according to an SI press statement.
Ayoreo protestors told the organization that, “We don’t want any outsiders in our territory – it’s dangerous for us, and dangerous for our relatives in the forest. We’ll stay here [on the road] until all the outsiders leave our land.”
The relatives mentioned above include un-contacted peoples in the Chaco region, mostly Totobiegosode families. These families have also been targeted for conversion by fundamentalist Christian and other religious denominations.
While the Ayoreo and Totobiegosode peoples have lost most of their lands since the 1940s, SI staffer Rebecca Spooner, who works with the Native peoples of the Chaco, said that the latest protest and official reaction bode well for the future.
“This is a significant success for the Ayoreo,” Spooner asserted. “It is incredibly positive to see results from the tribe taking matters into their own hands.”
“At the same time however, their determination is quite unbelievable,” she continued. “The encroachment of their lands by outsiders is incessant. Their ability to keep going and defending the land for their un-contacted relatives is remarkable.”
But SI Director Stephen Corry added, “The Ayoreo are extremely angry that one of the few parts of their territory that they had managed to secure is now being invaded by outsiders, with the connivance of the local police. It seems like the authorities in Paraguay favor the rich and powerful over people like the Ayoreo, who simply try to live in peace on their own land.”