[Marxism] Mennonites usurp indigenous peoples in Paraguay

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Mar 25 12:27:53 MDT 2012

(This reminds me of the Hutterite sect that has impinged on the 
Blackfoot reservations in Montana and Canada.)

NY Times March 24, 2012
Vast Tracts in Paraguay Forest Being Replaced by Ranches

FILADELFIA, Paraguay — The Chaco thorn forest, a domain with 118-degree 
temperatures so forbidding that Paraguayans call it their “green hell,” 
covers an expanse about the size of Poland. Hunter-gatherers still live 
in its vast mazes of quebracho trees.

But while the Chaco forest has remained hostile to most human endeavors 
for centuries, and jaguars, maned wolves and swarms of biting insects 
still inhabit its thickets, the region’s defiance may finally be coming 
to an end.

Huge tracts of the Chaco are being razed in a scramble into one of South 
America’s most remote corners by cattle ranchers from Brazil, Paraguay’s 
giant neighbor, and German-speaking Mennonites, descendants of colonists 
who arrived here nearly a century ago and work as farmers and ranchers.

So much land is being bulldozed and so many trees are being burned that 
the sky sometimes turns “twilight gray” at daytime, said Lucas Bessire, 
an American anthropologist who works here. “One wakes with the taste of 
ashes and a thin film of white on the tongue,” he said.

At least 1.2 million acres of the Chaco have been deforested in the last 
two years, according to satellite analyses by Guyra, an environmental 
group in Asunción, the capital. Ranchers making way for their vast herds 
of cattle have cleared roughly 10 percent of the Chaco forest in the 
last five years, Guyra said. That is reflected in surging beef exports.

“Paraguay already has the sad distinction of being a deforestation 
champion,” said José Luis Casaccia, a prosecutor and former environment 
minister, referring to the large clearing in recent decades of Atlantic 
forests in eastern Paraguay for soybean farms; little more than 10 
percent of the original forests remain.

“If we continue with this insanity,” Mr. Casaccia said, “nearly all of 
the Chaco’s forests could be destroyed within 30 years.”

The rush is already transforming small Mennonite settlements on the 
Chaco frontier into boomtowns. The Mennonites, whose Protestant 
Anabaptist faith coalesced in Europe in the 16th century, founded 
settlements here in the 1920s. Towns with names like Neuland, 
Friedensfeld and Neu-Halbstadt dot the map.

Buoyed by their newfound prosperity, the Mennonite communities here 
differ from those in other parts of Latin America, like the settlements 
in eastern Bolivia where many Mennonites still drive horse-drawn buggies 
and wear traditional clothing.

In Filadelfia, Mennonite teenagers barrel down roads outside town in new 
Nissan pickup trucks. Banks advertise loans for cattle traders. Gas 
stations sell chewing tobacco and beers like Coors Light. An annual 
rodeo lures visitors from across Paraguay.

Patrick Friesen, communications manager for a Mennonite cooperative in 
Filadelfia, said property prices had surged fivefold in recent years. “A 
plot of land in town costs more than in downtown Asunción,” said Mr. 
Friesen, attributing the boom partly to surging global demand for beef.

“Eighty-five percent of our beef is exported, to places including South 
Africa, Russia and Gabon,” he said. Citing concerns in some countries 
over foot-and-mouth disease, which Paraguay detected in its cattle herd 
in 2011, he continued, “We are currently focused on some of the 
less-demanding markets.”

Paraguay’s Chaco forest lies in the Gran Chaco plain, spread across 
several nations. Scientists fear that the expansion of cattle ranching 
could wipe out what is a beguiling frontier for the discovery of new 
species. The Chaco is still relatively unexplored. The largest living 
species of peccary, piglike mammals, was revealed to science here in the 
1970s. In some areas, biologists have recently glimpsed guanacos, a 
camelid similar to the llama.

More alarming, the land rush is also intensifying the upheaval among the 
Chaco’s indigenous peoples, who number in the thousands and have been 
grappling for decades with forays by foreign missionaries, the rising 
clout of the Mennonites and infighting among different tribes.

One group of hunter-gatherers, the Ayoreo, is under particular stress 
from the changes. In 2004, 17 Ayoreo speakers, from a subgroup who call 
themselves the Totobiegosode, or “people from the place where the 
collared peccaries ate our gardens,” made contact with outsiders for the 
first time.

In Chaidi, a village near Filadelfia, they described being hounded for 
years by bulldozers encroaching on their lands. The Ayoreo word for 
bulldozer, “eapajocacade,” means “attackers of the world.”

“They were destroying our forests, generating problems for us,” one 
Totobiegosode man, Esoi Chiquenoi, who believed he was in his 40s, said 
through an interpreter. As a result, he and others in his group, who in 
photographs taken in 2004 were wearing loincloths, abruptly abandoned 
their way of life.

Mr. Chiquenoi and others in Chaidi have spoken of Totobiegosode 
relatives who remain in the forest and continue to live in the 
traditional ways, making them possibly the last uncontacted tribe in 
South America outside the Amazon. Their numbers are estimated to be 
around 20 or more. Some researchers speculate whether they are actually 
uncontacted or merely hidden, as they live amid the vast cattle ranches 
created around them.

A March report by the Paraguayan Indigenous Institute confirmed their 
existence on land controlled by River Plate, a Brazilian ranching 
company, citing evidence of footprints and holes dug to capture turtles 
for food.

As the Mennonite communities come under scrutiny for the deforestation, 
they acknowledge that big sections of the forest around them are being 
removed. But they deny that they are to blame, contending that they 
abide by Paraguayan law, which requires landowners to keep a quarter of 
Chaco properties forested.

“What the Brazilians do, acquiring land with their strong currency and 
deep pockets, is something else,” said Franklin Klassen, a member of the 
city council in Loma Plata, a Mennonite town.

Across Paraguay, Brazil’s economic sway is impossible to ignore, 
symbolized by an estimated 300,000 Brasiguayos, as the relatively 
prosperous Brazilian immigrants and their descendants are called, who 
have played a role in expanding industrial agriculture and ranching in 

Tension already simmers over the growth of Brazilian landholdings. 
Tranquilo Favero, a Brazilian soybean farmer and rancher who is one of 
Paraguay’s richest men, enraged many Paraguayans when he said in remarks 
published in February that landless peasants had to be treated “like a 
swindler’s woman, who only obeys when beaten with a stick.”

Mr. Casaccia, the prosecutor, said that Mr. Favero alone controls an 
estimated 615,000 acres of land in the Chaco, in addition to huge tracts 
in eastern Paraguay. Neither Mr. Favero nor directors at his company in 
Asunción responded to requests for comment.

Still, other Brazilian ranchers confirmed that they have aggressively 
expanded their holdings in the Chaco, effectively contributing to the 

Nelson Cintra, a rancher from the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, 
said he and his brother were among the first Brazilians to put down 
stakes in the Chaco, acquiring about 86,000 acres in Alto Paraguay, near 
the Brazilian border, in 1997.

“Environmentalists complain about deforestation, but the world has 
billions of mouths to feed,” said Mr. Cintra, mayor of Porto Murtinho, a 
Brazilian border town. “There are now 1 million heads of cattle in Alto 
Paraguay, whereas 15 years ago there were just 50,000,” he said.

On Filadelfia’s outskirts, the transformation of the Chaco from a vast, 
untamed wilderness into a ranching bastion already seems irreversible. 
About 80 Ayoreo live in squalor in one spot on the side of the highway, 
sleeping under plastic bags draped from trees.

Sometimes ranchers in pickups stop to hire the Ayoreo men as laborers, 
paying them about $10 a day. But such work is sporadic. On most days, 
the Ayoreo lean on a fence, sipping a tea made from yerba maté leaves, 
watching trucks barrel past carrying cattle that grazed where peccaries 
once roamed.

“We’ll never live in the forest again,” said Arturo Chiquenoi, 28, an 
Ayoreo man who works occasionally as a ranch hand. “That life is finished.”

Noah Friedman-Rudovsky contributed reporting.

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