How Paraguay’s Indigenous Communities Fight Big Soy | Indigenous Rights News

Campo Aguae, Paraguay – Looking at a razed forest, Tupa Nevanga recalled his hometown in the eastern plains of Paraguay, which was rich in wild honey, bush meat and ancestral plants.

“There is no way into this community. Wild boars, jaguars and wild boars are everywhere,” the 65-year-old spiritual leader told Al Jazeera. “But it’s all destroyed.”

The ceremonial ballroom and the corn used for kagui, a wine he once used to anoint the tribe’s newborns, are gone, replaced by a yawning soybean plantation. Tribal leaders said that poisonous pesticides remain on the Avaguaraní territory, which are killing crops, livestock and even villagers.

“My prayer for this community is that we can get rid of this crisis,” Nevanga said.

Ava Guarani is one of Paraguay’s 19 aboriginal groups. For decades, the country’s elite landowners allied with agricultural companies have been depriving them of their culture, spirit, and territory. However, after more than a decade of continuous pesticide fumigation in a soybean plantation near Campo Aguae where there are about 400 people, people finally saw a glimmer of hope, and residents’ appeals for help may eventually be heard.

A sort of Recent decision The UN Human Rights Commission accused Paraguay of violating the rights of the Aguaranís, failing to monitor fumigation and preventing the use of banned pesticides in neighboring soybean plantations, causing health problems and the deterioration of tribal land and culture.

The committee stated in a statement: “Due to the extensive use of pesticides in nearby commercial farms, Paraguay’s failure to prevent and control the toxic pollution of traditional land has violated the rights of indigenous communities and the sense of’home’.”

Pesticide spray IIIAva Guarani’s children observe the tractor spraying pesticides by the village [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Toxic herbicide

Public records show that Paraguay imported 58,568 tons of agrochemicals in 2019, including the toxic herbicide glyphosate, 2,4D and paraquat, which are banned in more than 20 countries.

“Our child suffers from respiratory diseases, diarrhea, and vomiting,” Lucio Sosa, a 48-year-old teacher in Campoagua, told Al Jazeera.

In 2009, Sosa filed a criminal lawsuit against the local government for failing to stop the fumigation. This eventually led to the state launching a formal environmental investigation, but according to the United Nations, no meaningful progress was made in the following years.

A few years after Sousa filed his complaint, the community submitted his case to the UN Human Rights Commission, which subsequently launched an investigation. The ruling issued in October recommended criminal investigations and compensation for victims. It mentioned the use of illegal pesticides and the lack of protective hedges required by law to reduce pollution.

Al Jazeera could not reach the agribusiness mentioned in the ruling, and representatives of the Paraguayan Ministry of Public Affairs declined to comment.

Despite the UN’s condemnation, a visit to Campo Aguae about a week after the ruling found that two fumigation tractors were operating near the community. Residents said that spraying has been increasing.

Drone soy plantation 4Last month, a UN committee accused the Paraguayan government of allowing illegal chemical pesticides to be used on neighboring soybean farms, violating the rights of the tribe. [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Expulsion surge

Paraguay is the sixth largest in the world Soybean producerIn 2019, US$1.58 billion was created through exports.However, while creating huge profits for this South American country, cash crops have contributed to some of the highest deforestation rates in the world, inciting Drought across the countryAnd triggered a surge in land Expel aboriginal people Community.

This month, dozens of riot police forcibly expelled 70 Mbya Guarani families in the Hugua Po’i community of Caguazu’s soybean production Expelled A low-flying helicopter and military officers were found to tow an old man from his home.

“They didn’t even give us time to get our belongings. They destroyed our houses and temples, and then burned the rest,” community leader Manuel Ramos told Al Jazeera.

The police chief of Caguazu, Daniel Careaga, said that his police officer’s accusation of destroying the house was wrong. He told Al Jazeera that they were sent to enforce a judicial order to vacate the land. Mennonite The farmers claim that this is the land. Indigenous community members “are equipped with bows, spears and other blunt weapons…we allow them to take away everything needed for the relocation,” Careaga added.

The distribution of land in Paraguay is the most unequal in the world, according to World Bank90% of the country’s territory is in the hands of 12,000 property owners, many of whom are connected to the dictatorship of Alfredo Strösner, which took power from 1954 to 1989, which transferred public land And aboriginal territories are gifted to allies.

A controversial private property law approved in September last year applies severe imprisonment penalties to parties convicted of occupying private land. Critics say the law, which caused fierce protests, is aimed at indigenous communities and farmers in the country.

At the same time, the Paraguayan Indigenous Institute, a government agency responsible for advocating indigenous peoples, is widely regarded as insufficiently resourced and aligned with government interests.

“We worked hard to resettle the community and fight for land claims,” ​​Basilio Franco, the institute’s legal director, told Al Jazeera. “But we also work for the president, and our duty is to respect private property.”

Guarani ritualThe spiritual leader of Campo Aguaé, Tupa Nevanga, said that Guaraní rituals are disappearing due to the lack of ancestral plants. [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

The battle ahead

In Campo Aguae, there are about 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) of soybean monoculture nearby, and villagers said that soybean growers forced them to lease out the remaining land in order to further expand the soybean field.

“Soybeans have brought us all these problems,” Irma Aquino, a resident, told Al Jazeera when assessing the ruins of her partitions and thatched-roof houses, which had been destroyed by a violent storm the night before— This is common in villages and is exacerbated by lack of tree cover.

Aquino said her son Claudio died of health problems caused by agricultural chemicals two years ago. “He was only eight months old. He had breathing problems.”

However, Stella Benitez, a doctor who studies the effects of pesticides on humans, said that without national testing or epidemiological studies, it would be impossible to determine the cause of the boy’s death. “The state does not exist. Corruption penetrates into our culture, and these companies have all the political and economic power,” Benitez told Al Jazeera.

Faced with a powerful agribusiness, Souza said he will continue to defend his family and students, and pointed out that the UN ruling is the beginning. “If you love your people, you will fight for them,” he said. “We hope that our case will send a signal to our indigenous brothers, not only in Paraguay, but across the entire African continent.”