The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has urged Paraguay to stop illegal deforestation in Ayoreo Totobiegosode, an ancestral territory in the Chaco forest that’s home to the last uncontacted indigenous tribe south of the Amazon basin.
The tribe has said that three companies, including Brazilian company Yaguareté Porá, continue to deforest their ancestral territory despite the fact that their environmental licenses are suspended. In response, the IACHR has requested that the government prevent these companies and other third parties from entering the natives’ territories.
Like many other indigenous groups before them, the destruction of the Totobiegosode’s land is forcing them to abandon the only home they know; but the Totobiegosodes will not go quietly.
“The Totobiegosode hope to reclaim the stolen territory and preserve it,” Tagüide Picanerai, one of the spokesman of the Totobiegosode community, told the news service Agencia EFE.
According to Picanerai, the IACHR’s request is a response to the “irresponsibility of the Paraguayan government and its neglect to give the Ayoreo what is theirs and what they have claimed for over 20 years.”
Totobiegosodes, who are considered the most isolated of all the Ayoreo groups, have lived in the Paraguayan Chaco for over half a century. The tribe first came into contact with outsiders in the 1940s and 1950s, according to Latin Correspondent, when Mennonite farmers sought to develop colonies on Ayoreo land. A few decades later, the controversial fundamentalist New Tribes Mission helped force the Totobiegosodes from their land.
Today, the Chaco region – a unique, biodiverse area of land that includes Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay – suffers the highest rate of deforestation in the world. According to environmental nonprofit organization Guyra Paraguay, which uses satellite imaging to monitor deforestation, around 25 million trees (50,574 hectares of land) were cut down in the Gran Chaco in just one month last year.
To put that in perspective, the rate of deforestation is equivalent to 3.3 acres of per minute.
The reason for such rapid destruction is that almost all the Ayoreo’s ancestral land is now owned by private landowners, who clear the forest of valuable timber and then introduce cattle, according to Survival International. Consequently, much of the land has now been sold to wealthy local and Brazilian cattle-ranching businesses.
According to Survival International, one of the biggest threats still facing the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode today is the Brazilian company Yaguarete Porá, which is planning to deforest most of the land to make way for a cattle ranch. This would have an enormous impact upon the Ayoreo Totobiegosode’s way of life and ability to survive in that region.
Land preservationists and indigenous rights groups hope the IACHR’s request will put an end to this and other deforestation projects, but the long-term effects of such an order, as well as the ability to fix what damage has already been done, has yet to be determined.