Paraguay indigenous community threatened by illegal eviction and pesticide attack

Amnesty International has condemned the use of apparently toxic pesticides to intimidate an indigenous community after they resisted being forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands.

The organization urged the Paraguayan authorities to step up its efforts to provide protection and healthcare to them, and investigate the events of last week.

On Friday 6 November, over 50 men apparently representing Brazilian soya farmers claiming ownership of the land arrived in the Itakyry district of eastern Paraguay to try and remove them by force. The Indigenous Peoples resisted using bows and arrows.

Later that day, an airplane arrived and sprayed directly above their homes with what are believed to be pesticides normally used on soya crops. Over 200 people were affected, reporting sickness and fainting among other symptoms. At least 7 people were taken to hospital.

A worrying precedent had been set earlier in the week when the Human Rights Commission of the Paraguayan Senate, the same body that recently thwarted attempts to return traditional land to another indigenous community, the Yakye Axa, was used as a platform to promote the eviction.

The eviction order was cancelled by a district prosecutor just before it was due to be carried out on Friday 6 November. It is believed that the threats against the community were carried out in retaliation.

“Indigenous Peoples´ lives are being put in jeopardy by those who should protect them,” said Louise Finer, Paraguay Researcher at Amnesty International. “The risk faced by the Itakyry communities was predictable. Insufficient action was taken to protect them from the threats they faced from this renewed attempt to evict them from their ancestral lands.”

“The Paraguayan authorities – the Executive, Congress and the Judiciary – must work together to address the immediate needs of the communities after this attack, but also to ensure that it does not happen again.” said Louise Finer.

Only a small number of local police were present during the attack, despite the threat of intimidation towards the communities.

Despite local authorities promising to send ambulances to assist people suffering complaints such as vomiting and fainting following the spraying, it took several hours for them to receive any health treatment.

Despite the rights of Paraguay´s Indigenous Peoples being a key campaign pledge of President Fernando Lugo, the legacy of widespread land misappropriation from the dictatorship-period remains unaddressed.

Promoting large agricultural development is often put before safeguarding the land titles of Indigenous Peoples. The seriousness of the government´s commitment to addressing their land claims has not been demonstrated in practice.

In May, Amnesty International denounced that deforestation, soya plantations and the use of agro-chemicals continued to affect the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples.

Recent satellite imagery shows that deforestation in the north of Paraguay continues unabated despite existing government controls, putting at risk Indigenous groups such as the isolated Totobiegosode peoples

In October, Amnesty International criticised the Paraguayan Congress for rejecting a draft bill that would have allowed the state to return ancestral lands to the Yakye Axa indigenous community, leaving at least 90 families homeless.

According to international human rights standards, the right to traditional lands is crucial to Indigenous Peoples as it is a vital element of their sense of identity, livelihood and way of life.