Congress rejects bill to protect isolated Indians

April 8, 2005

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Paraguay's Congress yesterday rejected a bill to protect the heartland of the last isolated Indians south of the Amazon basin. The decision leaves the Indians at the mercy of cattle ranchers who have bought up the land illegally and have already started to clear it.

The Indians, members of the Ayoreo tribe, live in the dry scrub forests of western Paraguay. They are nomadic hunter-gatherers living off the abundant game, such as wild pigs, anteaters and armadillos. They also gather wild honey, and cultivate crops.

Most of the tribe have already been brought out of the forest, but an unknown number remain, resisting contact with outsiders. Their land is protected by injunctions which are supposed to stop all deforestation. Under Paraguayan law, the Indians have the right to own their land.

Acting illegally, large Brazilian and Paraguayan companies have bought up the Ayoreo's land and have already started clearing it. The bill rejected by Congress yesterday would have transferred ownership of the Indians' heartland back to the tribe.

Survival's Director Stephen Corry said today, ’This is a terrible day for the Ayoreo, who have lost the chance to finally gain some protection from the ranchers who have already cleared most of their land. But it is also a terrible day for Paraguay, which has failed a crucial test of civilized behaviour towards the most vulnerable section of its population.'

For more information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]

Photos of the isolated Indians, and aerial footage of the Indians' territory, showing illegally-bulldozed tracks, are available.