The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has ordered the Paraguayan government to protect an uncontacted indigenous group living in the Paraguayan Chaco.
Last week, as reported by Survival International, the IACHR called upon the government to protect the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe, whose land is under threat from cattle ranchers who are deforesting the area illegally.
The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode live in the Gran Chaco, an area of land which includes Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and which is being deforested at an astounding rate.
Worrying levels of deforestation
According to environmental Paraguayan non-profit organization Guyra Paraguay, which is using satellite imaging to monitor deforestation, some 25 million trees – equivalent to 50,574 hectares of land – were cut down in the Gran Chaco in October 2015.
The organization also calculated that in October, as much as 1,686 hectares of land was being deforested each day, compared to 1,352 hectares in September.
There are several indigenous groups living in the Gran Chaco, a region of high biodiversity, but the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode are the only uncontacted tribe living in the area.
Survival International reports that the deforestation is forcing the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode out of the forest, and that many are dying due to an unknown illness which is very similar to TB.
“It is heartening that the Inter-American Commission has taken this step, but until the government takes concrete action to protect the Ayoreo and their land, we will not be able to rest easy. The tribe has suffered terribly over the last few decades as their homeland has been destroyed and they have been forced into a traumatic change of life that has led, as it so often does, to appalling tragedy and loss of life.”
There are several sub-groups of the Ayoreo, but the Totobiegosode, whose name means ‘people from the place of the wild pigs’, are the most isolated.
The Totobiegosode typically live in small communities where they rely upon subsistence farming and hunting. Living in communal houses which accommodate four to five families, they cultivate crops such as beans and squashes, and hunt for wild game in the forest.
Since the late 1960s, they been under attack from outsiders. The group first came into contact with outsiders in the 1940s and 1950s when Mennonite farmers sought to develop colonies on Ayoreo land. Then, in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, the controversial New Tribes Mission helped to forcibly remove the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode from their land.
According to Survival, one of the biggest threats facing the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode today is the Brazilian company Yaguarete Porá, which owns a 78,000-hectare area of land close in the Chaco, close to where the uncontacted Ayoreo were last sighted. The company is planning to deforest most of the land to make way for a cattle ranch, and this will have an enormous impact upon the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode’s ability to continue living in the area.
“It is a humanitarian imperative that this order is properly enforced, and that the Ayoreo are given the chance to determine their own futures rather than having their lives destroyed by outsiders,” Corry added.