Forest and Landgrabbing
by Charlotte Eichhorn
Since the Spanish conquest, the Guaraní have been evicted from their native country. The new masters high-handedly gave away land titles and awarded immense areas of land to nobles and settlers, who were close to the crown and to the colonial administration. The Guaraní were forcibly displaced, killed or sold as slaves. During the 19th century, European settlers were increasingly recruited to colonise and cultivate the land in remote areas and the Guaraní payed the price. Their culture and their customs were mocked, their laws ignored, their rights trampled on.
Their culture and their customs were mocked, their laws ignored, their rights trampled on.
is an Mby’a-Guaraní
and chairman of the Guarani Federation CCNAGUA, Vice-Cacique (chief) of their community in Misiones, Argentina.
She earns her living as a teacher in a bilingual Mby’a-Guaraní school. Her recently deceased grandfather was one of the most renowned shamans of the Mby’a-Guaraní. She misses his advice very much.
Hilario Acosta was evicted as a child from his village Tapui Capij in the forest. Today he and his Mby’a-Guaraní community live in Takuapi in Misiones/ Argentina, outside the Ruiz de Montoya village settlement of Swiss emigrants.
Dra. Mariana supports him in his efforts to at least protect the cemetery of his ancestors in his former village.
the first indigenous architect,
Founder of the first indigenous party in Paraguay,
In the elections in April 2018, he ran for the Senate but just missed the necessary 50,000 votes.
He also became a representative of a new indigenous activist generation in the Paraguayan
Forum GRAMO: "View into the future".
is a shaman
from the village of Marcello Fabio Franco. While searching for a new area to live the whole village moved over the border to Argentina. Thus they landed in Dra. Mariana’s community of Ruiz de Montoya. It took a long time until her stateless existence was resolved thanks to legal aid. Today she again lives in the Tupambae forest which Dra. Mariana was able to purchase with the help of the Swiss organisation Sagittaria.
Health Assistant, Indigenous Representative and Mediator between his community and the "White World" in Misiones, Argentina.
was a Guaraní
activist from the same community of Arroyo Cora in Paraguay. Because he struggled against the seizure of his community’s land by large landowners, he was threatened and had to flee to Argentina together with his family and their entire community. Today it no longer feels right for him to live in our world; he is depressed, lives temporarily here and there and moves with his family between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
A message has just reached us from our film protagonist (above) Mario Borjes from the Mb'ya community of Ka'a Kupe (Argentina):
"Our patience is at an end," explains Mario Borjas, "we have been waiting for the police, the governor, the minister, and nothing happens, everything stays the same. Today I can hear the machines from my house, they are in there in front of us destroying the forest and we will not keep still."
This is state-recognised Mby'a territory, which if the Ministry of Environment was really concerned about the environment, it should be protected."
The lack of response from the local governor, -Oscar Herrera Ahuad- who is currently running for Congress and a real estate company - CARBA S.A. - that is destroying the forest refuge of the Mby'a-Guarani communities in the area, were the triggers of the protest. The extractive timber industry, which is as environmentally hostile, polluting and destructive as the mining industry, is seen as "essential" in this pandemic and is allowed to continue destroying, while those who want to defend their forest are forced to stay in their homes.
on other topics:
was a Jesuit priest (✝︎ 2019)
and was considered one of the best surviving Guaraní experts.
He has been living in Paraguay since 1954 and has spent long periods of time in various Guaraní villages, including in Brazil, after being expelled from the country for a few years in 1976 for publicizing a massacre of indigenous people.
For him, the Guaraní are the "theologians of the forest".
is a medical doctor
– fortunately a great successor to Dra. Mariana–
with a keen interest in the Mby'a culture.
Dra. Mariana Mampay
is an Argentinian doctor with Swiss roots
and since 2018 pensioned.Over 20 years, she was responisble in the state of Misiones in the northeast of Argentina to provide medical care for Mby’a-Guaraní communities.
Because she supports the Guaraní socio-politically as well, she is threatened and bullied by local politicians.
and the loss of the original forest which has occurred on the border between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. The construction of the Itaipu Hydro Dam, which started in 1974 and was finally completed in 1991 was a complicating factor. Tens of thousands of hectares of rain forest were cleared and around 40,000 people, mostly Guaraní, were resettled.
A recent example from Paraguay:
The municipality of Mbokaja Yguazu consists of 326 members and is located in the vicinity of Caaguazu. Originally the Mby’a-Guaraní had the use of over 1200 hectares of land. Today there are 72 hectares left, of which 20 were flooded by the construction of the Acaray Dam. In 1954, the dictator Alfredo Stroessner arbitrarily signed over the tribal land to business representatives of the agricultural company Ocampo S.A. They then sold the land some years later to Mennonite immigrants, who grow soy crops there. Each Mennonite family controls 3000-14,000 hectares; the Guarani, according to agricultural reform, are entitled to 20 hectares per family - however, in reality, most only own one hectare.
Similarly, during the dictatorship from 1960 to 1989 the government illegally gave away almost 8 million hectares of land to military personnel and politicians or business people in league with it. This accounts for about one third of the usable agricultural land. Paraguay has the smallest percentage of landowners in Latin America: 1.6% of the population owns 80% of usable land.
The land issue is the most urgent problem of the Guaraní. Again and again the Guarani leaders tour Europe in search of political support for their concern. The visits are usually funded by organisations such as Survival International or the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) of the Catholic Church in Brazil. International pressure is enormously important in their view, in order to put a stop to the continuing violations of human rights.
Expulsion of the Guaraní
by the Mennonites
After decades of ups and downs, Dra. Mariana managed - with the help of donations and Swiss NGOs - to organise the purchase of 132 ha of forest in Argentina. Displaced Mby’a-Guaraní from Paraguay are now resettled there.
We visited the communities and asked how they feel in a strange environment, an environment which fortunately is one of the few intact primary forests that was still available in Argentina.
Can that be an overall solution, and if so, where should the money come from and who would be under obligation to act?
The chronicle of how to purchase a forest: