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  HOME | Latin America (Click here for more)

Large Landowners Force Indians to Live on Side of Road in Paraguay

POZO COLORADO, Paraguay – Some 300 Enxet Indians have been living for 23 years by a roadside because two landowners do not allow them to reach the lands the Paraguayan government bought for them in compliance with a 2005 Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling.

The owners of the two cattle ranches, including former Vice President Oscar Denis Sanchez’s family, have blocked the construction of a road across their properties that would allow the indigenous community to get to their lands, Albino Gomez, a 34-year-old leader of the Yakye Axa community, told Efe.

“We wait only for a road,” he said. “Each day it is more and more difficult to live here.”

In the early 1990s, ranchers expelled the Indians from their land in the Chaco, a wetlands region rich in biodiversity, and the community began a long fight in Paraguayan and international courts to recover their property.

A key victory came in 2005, when the IAHRC ruled that Paraguay was violating the indigenous people’s rights and ordered the government to recover the lands they demanded.

Nothing has changed, however, and the Enxet still live where they were pushed more than two decades ago, a precarious settlement along the road connecting the city of Concepcion and the rural town of Pozo Colorado, in Presidente Hayes province, located 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Asuncion.

Luxury cars driven by landowners and big trucks loaded with cattle and timber rush by the shacks, their roaring engines muffling conversations.

Some 150 children live in the shantytown, crossing the road and often being hit by speeding vehicles.

President Fernando Lugo’s 2008-2012 administration sent Congress a bill providing for the expropriation of the lands, but lobbying by the current landowners dissuaded lawmakers.

Then the Yakye Axa accepted a proposal to move to a different area, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) away from their traditional territory, and the government bought the land and transferred the title to the Indians.

Some landowners agreed to allow the construction of a road across their properties, but the owners of Bretona ranch and another ranch owned by the Sanchez family are still blocking the work.

“Every time we tried to move in, the landowners refused to allow us to pass, so a few months ago we filed a new lawsuit,” Gomez said.

The IAHRC’s ruling said the Indians must have free access to their territory.

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