Some three hundred representatives of Paraguay’s Indigenous peoples demonstrated in the capital city of Asunción yesterday, marking the Day of the American Indigenous and demanding access to education, health and ancestral lands. They came from across the interior of the country and once in Asunción, walked 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Cerro Lambaré, a monument to an Indigenous chief, to the seat of the national Congress, in a demonstration that included dancing, music, the selling of artisan handcrafts, and shaman rituals.
Clemente Lopez, a leader of the Chamacoco peoples, told the Associated Press, “Our permanent struggle is to make the state return the lands where our ancestors lived and that today should belong to us.” Catalino Sosa, of the Mbyá Guaraní peoples, told Efe, “This is not a party. It is a day of reclaiming from the state and the government land and territory, because in Paraguay laws are not enforced, nor is there political will.” He said his community, based about 250 km (155 mi) east of Asunción lacked schools and health services, and asked that greater resources be allocated to it. Another leader from a fishing community north of Asunción said the fisherpeoples there needed government assistance to help commercialize their artisanal products.
The Indigenous demonstration and celebrations were in part coordinated by the state body Instituto Nacional del Indígena (National Institute of the Indigenous), which facilitated their transportation from the interior zones of the country. There were no incidences of violence, according to police forces deployed to maintain order.
Paraguay’s Indigenous number about 100,000, out of a total population of 6.5 million. They are divided into 20 pueblos and five linguistic families—the Guaraní, Maskoy, Mataco Mataguayo, Samuco and Guacuru. The majority of them live in rural areas in the western Chaco region, although a scant community of about 10 families lives in the jungle region on the border with Bolivia. A rise in deforestation, mechanized agriculture and government neglect have increased poverty among Paraguay’s Indigenous communities; 63 percent of Indigenous children in the country live in extreme poverty, compared to about 20 percent of non-Indigenous children.