Tag Archives: ayoreo

Audio: The link between Paraguay, Monsanto and deforestation of the Gran Chaco

In this week’s Earth Segment on KPFK Pacifica radio’s Sojourner Truth show, Dr. Miguel Lovera, former National Secretary for Plant Safety of Paraguay discusses the recent Paraguay coup, the link to the expansion of GMO soy plantations and the logging of the Gran Chaco forest, home to the Ayoreo indigenous people.

Global Justice Ecology Project teams up with the Sojourner Truth show for Earth Segment interviews every Thursday.

To listen to or download the podcast, click here

To view Orin Langelle’s photo essay of the Ayoreo in the Chaco, click here

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Corporate Globalization, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean

Earth Minute: Paraguay coup endangers Gran Chaco forest

Global Justice Ecology Project teams up with the Sojourner Truth show every Tuesday for an Earth Minute and every Thursday for an Earth Segment interview with front line activists from around the world.

This week’s Earth minute focuses on the coup in Paraguay and its impacts on the great forest of the Gran Chaco ecosystem, including the Ayoreo People, some of whom represent the last uncontacted tribes in the Americas.

To listen to or download the show, click on the link below:

Earth Minute 3 July 2012

To view Orin Langelle’s photo essay of the Ayoreo in the Gran Chaco, click here

The text from this week’s Earth Minute is below:

Two weeks ago in Paraguay, elected left-wing President Fernando Lugo was ousted through a “Parliamentary coup.”

The UK Guardian likened the upheaval to the removal of President Manuel Zelaya from Honduras. “A progressive but imperfect leftwing leader ousted by rightwing forces determined to halt policies that threaten their business interests.

As always, the underlying politics revolve around land.  In this case, Paraguay’s Gran Chaco–a vast expanse of grasslands, forests and cactus that borders Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. Home to some of the last uncontacted tribes in the Americas, the great forest of the Gran Chaco is being rapidly eaten away by the expansion of beef cattle ranches–with ten percent of the forest lost in the last 5 years.

These forests are home to the indigenous Ayoreo people, who, after decades of oppression, have been trying to recover both their culture and land rights.  Now, like Indigenous Peoples worldwide, the Ayoreo and their lands are threatened by the insatiable appetites of the global market.

For the Earth Minute and the Sojourner Truth show, this is Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project.

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Filed under Climate Change, Earth Minute, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs

Photo Essay: Paraguay Coup Connections

What will happen to the Indigenous Peoples?

Photographs by Orin Langelle/GJEP-GFC

In the Ayoreo settlement of Campo Lorro, Chaco, Paraguay

Paraguay’s right-wing coup that ousted Fernando Lugo’s government two weeks ago hardly made North American news.  Typical.  And how many people care anyway about that small landlocked nation?

Although the photos in this essay were taken in 2009, they show a community and a people struggling for survival.

To me the coup is personal, because I traveled to Paraguay in January of 2009.  I have friends there. GJEP is the North American Focal Point for Global Forest Coalition  which has their southern hemisphere office there.  I had the opportunity to tour Asuncion, the nation’s Capitol, and see where the poor live several hundred meters from the national government buildings. I traveled on long back roads surrounded by immense GMO soybean fields controlled by agribusiness (the soy mafia) and I visited and photographed the Ayoreo indigenous community of Campo Lorro (Parrot Field) in the Chaco region.

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Filed under Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, Political Repression

Natural History Museum expedition ‘poses genocide threat’ to Paraguay tribes

In early 2009, Global Justice Ecology Project’s Co-director/Strategist, Orin Langelle, went to the Gran Chaco region in Paraguay with Iniciativa Amotocodie and Global Forest Coalition with permission to take photographs in the Ayoreo community of Campo Loro, for a project with the community called: Sharing the Eye.  Campo Loro was targeted by American missionaries and one of the first Ayoreo communities to be colonized.   A community leader took Langelle through the village and pointed out important things to him and other Ayoreo that lived there, which Langelle photographed.  By mid 2009, the Ayoreo community of Campo Loro (near the town of Filadelfia) received the photographs where they were exhibited for the entire community.  You can view the exhibit Sharing the Eye by clicking here. GJEP is the North America Focal Point for Global Forest Coalition.

–The GJEP Team


Cross-posted from The Guardian

John Vidal, environment editor

Field trip to find new plant and insect species in the Chaco will endanger remote Indian tribes, anthropologists and indigenous leaders warn

Click the image below to watch the video from Survival International

Anthropologists and indigenous leaders have warned that a Natural History Museum expedition to Paraguay could lead to “genocide” and are calling for it to be abandoned. They fear that the scientists and their teams of assistants are likely to make accidental contact with isolated indigenous groups in the remote region they are planning to visit and could pass on infectious diseases.

The 100-strong expedition is due to set off in the next few days for two of the remotest regions of the vast dry forest known as the Gran Chaco, which stretches over northern Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. The expedition organisers hope to find several hundred new species of plants and insects.

But the two sites where the British and Paraguayan teams of botanists, biologists and other scientists plan to stay in for up to a month are known to be home to groups of Ayoreo Indians. They live in voluntary isolation and reject and avoid all contact with Westerners, said Benno Glauser, director of leading indigenous peoples‘ protection group Iniciativa Amotocodie.

Glauser, with the backing of Ayoreo leaders who have left the forest in the last 20 years, has sent the museum more than 40 pieces of data showing the presence of isolated peoples in the Chovoreca and Cabrera Timane regions.

“According to our data, the expedition you plan constitutes beyond any doubt an extremely high risk for the integrity, safety and legal rights of life and self-determination of the isolated Ayoreo, as well as for the integrity and stability of their territories. There exists a considerable menace and risk also for the safety of the scientists taking part of the expedition, as well as the rest of expedition participants,” says Glauser in a letter to the museum.

Until about 1950 it is estimated that around 5,000 Ayoreo lived in the Chaco forest as isolated hunter-gatherers without contact with the ranchers and religious groups who were given land by the Paraguayan government. Since then almost all have left the forest after being targeted by American missionaries. It is estimated that there are now only six or seven isolated groups numbering around 150 people in total. It is now the only place in South America outside the Amazon where uncontacted Indians still live.

Ayoreo leaders who have settled near the town of Filadelfia in northern Paraguay this week appealed to the president of Paraguay and the Natural History Museum to abandon the expedition, saying that their relatives were in grave danger.

“Both of these regions belong to the Ayoreo indigenous territory … We know that our people still live in the forest and they don’t want to leave it to join white civilisation.”

He said there are at least three uncontacted groups in the area. “If this expedition goes ahead we will not be able to understand why you prefer to lose human lives just because the English scientists want to study plants and animals. There is too much risk: the people in the forest die frequently from catching white people’s diseases – the get infected by being close. Because the white people leave their rubbish, their clothes, or other contaminated things. It’s very serious. It’s like a genocide,” they said in a statement.

According to Survival International, an NGO that campaigns for the rights of tribal peoples, contact with any isolated Indians would be disastrous for either party. “Contact with isolated groups is invariably violent, sometimes fatal and always disastrous,” said Jonathan Mazower, a spokesman. “It is highly likely that there are small groups of isolated Indians scattered throughout the Chaco. The only sensible thing to do is err on the side of caution because any accidental contact can be disastrous. This has happened before [in the Chaco]. On two previous occasions, in 1979 and 1986 expeditions were sent in by US missionaries to bring out Indians and people were killed on both occasions.”

The expedition, one of the largest undertaken by the museum in more than 50 years, has taken several years to plan and is believed to be costing more than £300,000. It hopes to map and record species of thousands of plants and insects, which will then go to local Paraguayan museums. Until last month, the museum’s website had claimed that the area the scientists will visit “has not been explored by human beings”.

This created consternation in the Ayoreo communities. “Some people say they are going to places in which no human being has ever been. That means we Ayoreo are not human beings,” said one of the leaders in a statement to the Guardian. “Our uncontacted brothers have the right to decide how they want to live – if they want to leave or not.”

The Chaco, known as “green hell” is one of the least hospitable but most biologically diverse places on Earth. The barely populated expanse of almost impenetrable forest is twice the size of the UK, but home to at least 3,400 plant species, 500 bird species, 150 species of mammals, 120 species of reptiles, and 100 species of amphibians. Jaguars, pumas, giant anteaters and giant otters are common.

In a statement, the Natural History Museum said it had planned the expedition in conjunction with the Paraguayan government and would be working with Ayoreo Indians: “We recognise the importance of the concerns which have been taken into account during the planning of the expedition. They form part of the ongoing consultations that are still taking place with the Paraguayan authorities. The information and specimens collected on this trip will help scientists to understand for the first time the richness and diversity of the animals and plants in this remote region and the governments and conservation groups are able to use such information to better understand how to manage fragile habitats and protect them for future generations.”

It continued: “We are delighted to be working with representatives of the indigenous people. This gives us a wonderful opportunity to combine traditionally acquired knowledge with scientifically acquired knowledge to our mutual benefit. As with all expeditions, the team is continually reviewing the situation. Our primary concern is for the welfare of the members of the expedition team and the people of the Dry Chaco region.”

Uncontacted tribes around the world

There are around 100 remaining groups of isolated, or “uncontacted” people, including 40-67 in Brazil, 15-18 in Peru, 15-30 in Papua and others in Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, and the Andaman islands of India. As oil companies, loggers and farmers go deeper into the remotest forests, evidence of more groups is being discovered.

A few groups may have no idea of country or other languages and no one has come close to them. Some are the descendants of tribes contacted more than 100 years ago by colonists who fled deeper into the forest in fear of enslavement or decimation by disease. Others shun all contact with western civilisation but have a good idea of life outside the forest and may have machetes or other tools which they could have acquired from contact with other groups.

According to Survival International, these tribes all remain in isolation because they choose to, and because encounters with the outside world have brought them only violence, disease and murder.

Isolated tribes are the most vulnerable people on Earth, having no immunity to the diseases brought in by outsiders. Colds and flu can become killers, and 50-90% of tribe members commonly die from first contact with outsiders.

Epidemics of measles, smallpox, yellow fever, whooping cough, influenza and later malaria have all had devastating effects.

More than 20% of the Yanomami Indians of northern Brazil died in the 1980s and 90s when they came into contact with goldminers who brought in illnesses. Ninety per cent of Indians in the Javari valley in Amazonas state in Brazil, including six uncontacted tribes, suffered from malaria or hepatitis brought into the area in 2006.

The result, says Survival, is that entire cultures that have taken centuries to evolve can be being wiped out in days as disease invades a population.

Anthropologists now take precautions including wearing masks to avoid accidentally passing on diseases.

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Chaco deforestation by Christian sect puts Paraguayan land under threat

Note: GJEP Co-Director/ Strategist Orin Langelle was invited by the Ayoreo People at Parrot Field in the Gran Chaco of Paraguay to document their community in February 2009.  Orin then sent his photo exhibit, which he calls “Sharing the Eye” to the Ayoreo for an exhibit there.  Orin’s photos from this documentary expedition can be viewed on our website by clicking here.  Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC
Chaco deforestation by Christian sect puts Paraguayan land under threat
By John Vidal

Wildlife and the world’s last uncontacted tribe both at risk as Mennonites turn Chaco forest into prairie-style farmland

Deforestation in Paraguay is forcing the people of the Ayoreo tribe to leave land they have occupied for generations.

Click here to view the video from Survival International

Hitler was said to have fled there, the Spanish conquistadores failed to penetrate it, and the only uncontacted tribe outside Amazonia lives within its borders. But now the vast Paraguayan wilderness of thorn trees, jaguars and snakes known as the Chaco is being transformed by a Christian fundamentalist sect and hundreds of Brazilian ranchers.

Worldwide food shortages and rock-bottom land prices in Paraguay have made the Chaco the last agricultural frontier. Great swaths of the virgin thorn forest once dubbed Latin America’s “green hell”, are being turned into prairie-style grasslands to rear meat for Europe and grow biofuel crops for cars.

Recent satellite imagery confirmed that about one million hectares, or nearly 10%, of the virgin, dry forest in northern Paraguay has been cleared in just four years by ranchers using fire, chains and bulldozers to open up land. By comparison, Brazil claims to have nearly halted its deforestation of the Amazon.

Landowners in the Chaco, the second-largest South American forest outside the Amazon, must by law leave trees on 25% of their land but the region’s remoteness and the government’s lack of resources for monitoring or prosecuting law-breakers has encouraged rampant, illegal felling of the dense, slow-growing forest.

The consequence, say conservationists, including David Attenborough, is a growing ecological disaster with widespread erosion and desertification taking place in one of the world’s most fragile and diverse environments.

“This is one of the last great wilderness areas left in the world. It is vital that we save the incredible biodiversity of these habitats,” said Attenborough, who made some of his earliest wildlife films in the region.

The barely populated expanse of almost impenetrable forest, twice the size of the UK, is home to about 3,400 plant species, 500 bird species, 150 species of mammals, 120 species of reptiles, and 100 species of amphibians. Jaguars, pumas, giant anteaters and otters make it one of the most diverse in the world.

In November the Natural History Museum will send 60 scientists to investigate two areas of the forest. They expect to find several hundred new species.

About 20,000 Indians lived in the area for centuries but the land was never colonised by western groups until the 1930s when fundamentalist Mennonite sects from Russia and eastern Europe were given large areas, to allow them to avoid communist persecution.

As in Brazil, the indigenous people were largely wiped out and then deprived of their ancestral land.

The Mennonites, who include the traditional Amish sect of Pennsylvania, believe in a strict interpretation of the bible and often seek isolation in remote areas. But the Chaco land rush, which has seen prices rise from under $10 a hectare to over $200 in a few years, has made the sect worth at least $500m.

The large Mennonite families and powerful co-operative farm groups have bought an estimated 2m hectares of land in the Chaco. What also used to be modest meat and dairy enterprises have grown into formidable agri-businesses dominating Paraguayan livestock farming.

Mennonite communities, where an old German dialect is mostly spoken, now sport new pick-up trucks and have north American-style hypermarkets and restaurants.

“We intend to expand in the Chaco as much as the law allows. Not just physically but by making the land more productive,” said Heinrich Dyck, finance director of the Neuland co-operative of Mennonite farmers based in Filadelfia, the largest Mennonite community, of 4,000 people. The co-operative is one of Paraguay’s largest meat and milk exporters and owns the country’s biggest slaughterhouse.

Dyck added: “Religion is at the heart of everything we do. The Christian faith is fundamental to us. God made it clear in the bible that we should take care of the land and use it as a source of sustainability and production.”.

The Mennonites, who until recently paid no taxes, run their own schools and police. They have been joined in the Chaco by hundreds of Brazilian ranchers. These are mostly the descendants of German émigrés who established themselves in southern Brazil after the war. The Brazilians are now believed by government to own nearly 3m hectares.

“The Brazilians are now exporting deforestation,” said one government spokesman.

The two groups, which both speak German, now control nearly a third of the Paraguayan Chaco and have rapidly developed a $100m-a-year meat and dairy agri-business which exports meat to Chile, Europe, Israel and Russia.

Ignacio Rivas, a conservationist with the Paraguayan group Guyra, said: “The fate of the Chaco lies with these groups. At this rate 75% or more of the Chaco will have disappeared in a generation. Both groups are expanding aggressively. Their style of farming is totally unsuited to the fragile soils of the Chaco and will lead only to desertification and erosion.”

Mennonite and other large landowners this week defended the deforestation, arguing that it created jobs. “The Chaco was for sale a few years ago. No one wanted it. Why did not the conservationists buy it then?” said Massimo Coda, a spokesman for the Rural Association of Paraguay. “The reason why so much land is being cleared now is that we fear that more restrictions will be put on how much forest we can fell. We fear we will be stuck with a forest which pays nothing. We accept there is ecological damage, but we are prepared to leave more land forested.”

A spokesman for the environment ministry said: “We know what is happening in the Chaco but there’s little we can do. This land is very fragile. It will take many years to recover. The most important thing we can do is to try to conserve as much as possible. But we need the help of the international community to stop the losses in the most fragile areas.”

Concern is building over the future of isolated Indian groups. The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode is the only uncontacted tribe in South America outside Amazonia, but earlier this year bulldozers hired from a Mennonite transport company were found illegally destroying thousands of acres of the land they regularly use.

According to Survival International American fundamentalist churches helped organise “manhunts” in which large groups of Totobiegosode were forcibly brought out of the forest as late as the 1986 to be converted to Christianity.

“Everyone knows about the Amazon but this is one of the last unknown places on earth and it is being destroyed for the sake of a few hamburgers before we even study it. This is short-term gain with desertification the only long-term prospect. It will cease to work as an ecosystem if we allow this destruction to carry on,” said John Burton, chief executive of the Word Land Trust.

The Chaco has a history of surviving anything that man can throw at it, including war and a proposal that it become a global nuclear waste dump. During the 16th century, Spanish conquistadores tried to penetrate it but the vegetation, harsh climate, lack of water and indigenous tribes defeated them and the Chaco was largely ignored.

In 1932, following a rumoured oil strike by Shell, Bolivian troops invaded the region but were defeated by a lack of water and searing temperatures. More than 2,000 people died in the three-year war and the outlines of trenches are still clear, with pieces of metal from tanks still littering the countryside.

Explorers hope for new species

Sixty British and Paraguyan scientists are to spend a month in unexplored northern Chaco in a biodiversity expedition expected to discover several hundred new wildlife species.

The Natural History Museum’s expedition will be the largest scientific exercise ever mounted in Paraguay and one of the most ambitious by British scientists in 30 years.

Specialists in several fields, including spiders, birds, microbes, plants, mammals, and fossils, will spend two weeks in two of the remotest northern regions, close to the Bolivian border.

The army-backed expedition of 100 scientists, cooks and logistics experts will have to endure extreme conditions. “Temperatures are expected to reach 48C, humidity will be 100%, floods are possible and mosquitoes, ticks and other biting insects are certain,” said Alberto Yanosky, chief executive of the Paraguayan conservation group Gwyra, which is helping to organise the trip. “We have no idea what we might find. No one has researched these areas.”

The Chaco, which stretches over nearly 240,000 sq km, is similar topographically, and in places climatically, to the Australian outback. Covering parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, it is a mix of forest, palm woodland, shrubby steppe, and swamp. It is the second largest biome in South America after Amazonia.


Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle