(Beyond Pesticides, November 16, 2009) Paraguayan authorities are being urged to step up their efforts to provide protection and health care to an indigenous community after toxic pesticides were used to intimidate them when they resisted being evicted from their ancestral lands. According to Amnesty International, on November 6, over 50 men apparently representing Brazilian soy farmers claiming ownership of the land arrived in the Itakyry district of eastern Paraguay to try and remove the indigenous community by force. The Indigenous Peoples resisted, using bows and arrows. Later that day, an airplane arrived and sprayed pesticides directly above their homes.
Despite local authorities promising to send ambulances to assist people suffering complaints such as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and fainting following the spraying, it took several hours for them to receive any health treatment. Over 200 people were affected, and at least seven people were taken to the hospital.
According to observers, a troubling 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 November 6. 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.”
Only a small number of local police were present during the attack, despite the threat of intimidation toward the communities. Even with 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, according to advocates.
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, soy plantations and the use of agro-chemicals continued to affect the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples.
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.
In a statement by Esperanza Martinez, Paraguay’s minister of health, officials are investigating who may have been responsible for the aerial spraying.
Source: Amnesty International