South American Indigenous groups unite to demand urgent protection for uncontacted tribe

February 22, 2022

- Organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people in South America make public appeal for action

- Fate of unique uncontacted tribe now at a “tipping point” between survival and extermination

- Paraguay’s government has stood by and watched for years as illegal deforestation threatens the group

- Urgent call for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations to intervene

Leading Indigenous organizations from across South America have made an unprecedented public appeal for urgent action to prevent the genocide of one of the most threatened uncontacted tribes in the world.

Uncontacted members of Paraguay’s Ayoreo tribe are the last uncontacted Indigenous people in South America outside the Amazon.

Uncontacted Ayoreo on the day they were forced out of the forest, 2004. © GAT/Survival

Vast swathes of the once-extensive Chaco forest have been cut down all around them, so the Ayoreo now live in an ever-shrinking island of forest surrounded by a sea of destruction. The area suffers the fastest rate of deforestation in the world.

Although contacted members of the tribe submitted a formal land claim to the authorities in 1993, only some parcels of land have been returned to them (following lengthy battles). Most of the Ayoreo’s ancestral forest remains in private hands, and it is being rapidly bulldozed for beef production. The beef is exported mainly to Chile, Russia and Brazil, while most of the leather is exported to the EU, almost entirely to Italy.

In the face of this imminent threat to the Ayoreo’s survival, leading Indigenous organizations across South America have now made an extraordinary public appeal for action.

They include:

- AIDESEP (inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest) [represents Indigenous communities across Peru’s Amazon]
- CAOI (Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Andes)
- COIAB (Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon)
- COICA (Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin)
- CONFENIAE (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon)
- FENAMAD (Native Federation of Madre de Dios, Peru)
- ONIC (National Indigenous Organization of Colombia)
- ORPIA (Regional Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of Amazonas State, Venezuela)
- ORPIO (Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Eastern Amazon, Peru)
- UNIVAJA (Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley, Brazil)

In their public appeal they demand that:

- the Ayoreo’s lands be returned and titled to them as a matter of urgency;
- the ranching businesses now occupying their land be expelled;
- the territory then be properly monitored and protected to prevent future destruction.

Illegal deforestation now penetrating the very heart of the uncontacted Ayoreo territory. © Survival

The organizations, and the Ayoreo, believe that only if outside bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights intervene, will the Paraguayan government do anything to stop the destruction.

Survival International, which has worked with the Ayoreo since the 1980s, is coordinating a worldwide email action and Twitter storm on February 23.

One of the contacted Ayoreo leaders, Porai Picanerai, said: “If the state refuses to act when we protest at the invasion of our territory, the cattle ranchers will occupy all our land, our relatives will die and we could soon disappear too.”

Teresa Mayo, head of Survival’s Ayoreo campaign, said today: “This unprecedented and unique appeal for the Ayoreo by Indigenous organizations from across South America shows how serious the situation now is. Despite the grave threats to their own survival, they can see just how urgent and desperate the Ayoreo case is.

“For years the Paraguayan authorities have stood by and watched as the Ayoreo’s priceless forest goes up in smoke. Satellite images from recent decades show a truly horrifying rate of destruction. It’s now only major international pressure that can prevent the total destruction of the uncontacted Ayoreo people, and the forests they have cared for for so long.”