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Ayoreo in Paraguay

  • Profile

    The 5,000 Ayoreo are a trans-national people, living in Paraguay and Bolivia (data: Survival International, 2002). In Paraguay they live mainly in the central Chaco region. The Ayoreo are divided up into different subgroups, which – according to some sources – have tended to be hostile to one other. (Such hostility has been exacerbated by more recent divides between Protestant Evangelicals and Roman Catholics). Traditionally the Ayoreo are hunter-gatherers; today many work in the Mennonite colonies on the large cattle ranches, often for less than the minimum wage.

    Historical context

    Many of the Totobiegosode subgroup of the Ayoreo had had very little contact with other peoples until – with the help of the Guidaigosode (another subgroup) – they were forcibly settled by the New Tribes Mission in 1979 and again in 1986. Many subsequently died of malnutrition and disease.

    Since the early 1990s, after enduring years of settlement existence, Ayoreo have been demanding that their ownership of almost 1,000,000 hectares of Chaco territory be recognized by the government. Such land claims remain largely unresolved.

    Current issues

    Ayoreo communities are still deprived of many basic resources such as electricity, clean water and health services. A high proportion of Ayoreo have diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. Many live in make-shift housing, and suffer from hunger and violence from non-Ayoreo.

    The rapid destruction of the Chaco forest threatens the survival of many indigenous communities in the region. The Ayoreo are under great pressure from ranchers wanting to clear their land; there are many cases of bulldozers coming down on abandoned Ayoreo camps. Ranchers also control the few permanent water sources in the Chaco. NGOs have lodged protests and numerous land claims on behalf of Ayoreo communities but, despite the constitution (1992) guaranteeing indigenous communities’ right to communal land ownership, there is a lack of political will to solve the problem.

    In 2005 Congress concluded a twelve year struggle to preserve a fragile area of the Chaco for the Ayoreo people, by voting against the expropriation of 114,000 hectares from Brazilian and Argentine landowners.

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