ASUNCION – Indians in the eastern Paraguayan community of Sauce are demanding the dismissal of Aldo Saldivar, head of the National Indigenous Institute, or Indi, after police evicted them from their ancestral lands last week, a non-governmental organization said Wednesday.
Police forcibly evicted that group of Ava Guarani Indians from their lands in the eastern district of Minga Pora, Alto Parana province, on Sept. 30, demolishing and burning down their homes, schools, places of worship and crops, the Coordinator of Human Rights of Paraguay, or Codehupy, said.
The police also stole the Indians’ domestic animals and forced them to take refuge in the nearby Limoy reserve, the NGO said.
The Indians said Saldivar had failed to uphold his duty to protect their rights and even lent several of his institution’s trucks to relocate them during the operation.
The eviction occurred after agricultural producer German Hutz leveraged his family ties to Paraguayan Vice President Juan Afara to obtain a court order, Codehupy said.
The Paraguayan government “lacks authority to dispose of indigenous lands and hand them over to third parties,” the NGO’s executive secretary, Oscar Ayala, said, adding that on the contrary its duty is to provide legal certainty to indigenous communities by “delineating, demarcating and granting title” to those territories.
The Sauce community’s lands cover an area of 1,047 hectares (2,585 acres) and are part of the Ava Guarani people’s ancestral territory, meaning they cannot be displaced or relocated without their consent, according to the Paraguayan constitution.
At least 36 Ava Guarani communities received no compensation when they were displaced during Alfredo Stroessner’s 1954-1989 dictatorship to make way for the construction of the Itaipu Dam, which is shared by Paraguay and Brazil.
The Paraguayan government acknowledged a historic debt to those indigenous communities in a 2013 resolution, but Saldivar annulled that decision after taking office, Codehupy said.
Saldivar took over as Indi director after his predecessor was caught on videotape kicking an Indian woman at a protest and subsequently dismissed.
Paraguay is home to around 120,000 Indians, 76 percent of whom live in extreme poverty, according to official figures.
In most cases, that poverty is the result of their having been stripped of their ancestral lands during the Stroessner dictatorship and the first decade of democratic rule.