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Date: Sun, 18 Oct 98 01:24:21 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-PARAGUAY: Indigenous Sit-in Demands Land and Services
Article: 45603
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.23731.19981020121543@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 526.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-PARAGUAY: Indigenous Sit-in Demands Land and Services **
** Written 4:16 PM Oct 16, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Indigenous Sit-in Demands Land and Services

By Carlos Montero, IPS, 13 October 1998

ASUNCION, Oct 13 (IPS) - Some 2,000 indigenous protesters in Paraguay have installed themselves in front of Congress, capping the first march on Asuncion commemorating Colombus' arrival to the Americas in 1492.

The participants in the sit-in - representatives of the Guarani (Enxet in the Guarani language) and Toba communities - are demanding health care, education and the return of 127,000 hectares of land.

President Raul Cubas said he would respond to their demands within the next month.

Paraguay's indigenous groups account for five percent of the country's total population of just over five million. An estimated 90 percent of Paraguayans are mestizos - of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent.

The March for Indigenous Dignity; Give Us Back Our Land is demanding the restoration of 127,000 ha, the rest of the 199,000 ha claimed by 1,000 families of the Lengua, Angaite and Sanapana (Guarani communities) and the Toba Qom.

The indigenous representatives met with Cubas as the president of the government of the white men, but as an equal, as the chief of another tribe, explained channel 9 news anchor Estella Rufinelli.

We have been cheated and ignored by governments for 500 years, indigenous leader Carlos Marecos, the coordinator of Bajo Chaco, said in Guarani, speaking into a bunch of microphones in the Government Palace.

The arid, dusty Chaco, shared by western Paraguay, eastern Bolivia and northern Argentina, is home to indigenous groups as well as Mennonite communities established in 1927, and is frequently visited by military patrols and car thieves in search of cocaine.

We are only asking for what is ours, added Marecos, the coordinator of the march and the Oct. 13-15 sit-in.

Due to the heat - above 30 degrees celsius - mothers and children were carried by police and military vans on the last stretch of the march.

Many other protesters suffered the first shock of the burning pavement barefoot, while listening to transistor radios to catch media reports in which indigenous people - generally ignored by reporters and politicians - were the leading protagonists.

Local residents expressed their solidarity and governmental Corporation of Sanitary Works trucks provided water during the march.

The president's response was ambiguous. Meeting with indigenous leaders in the office of the Council of Ministers, Cubas said that what can be done, will be done, and the rest will have to wait a bit longer.

Sitting in the Senate with other protesters, peasant leader Antolin Kenedi demanded sanctions for those who stole land from the National Indigenous Institute, and upbraided legislators for failing to guarantee health care to Paraguay's indigenous groups.

Pilar Roig, with the non-governmental organisation 'Tierra Viva', protested that there was not one single health clinic along a 350-km stretch in the Chaco. The situation of isolation and marginalisation is terrible, especially in communities located at up to 80 kms from the highway. The only health post in Pozo Colorado has one nurse, and no medication or transport vehicles, she added.

Public Health Minister Carmen Frutos said her ministry had run into problems in providing services to indigenous groups, due to culture clashes. The minister pointed out that there were clinics in Villa Hayes, Mariscal Estigarribia and 25 Leguas, along the semi-paved Trans-Chaco road linking Paraguay and Bolivia.

The sit-in is demanding that a state of emergency be declared in the Yake Axa and Sahoyamaxa Guarani communities, and that a democratic procedure be introduced for naming indigenous representatives to the National Indigenous Institute.

Alberto Areco, with the National Peasant Federation, admitted the possibility of joint demonstrations by workers, peasants and indigenous people in the near future.

Kenedi said that around election time, the whites come to seek our votes. But everything ends up in 'opa-rei', a Guarani term for broken promises.

Opposition Senator Juan Carlos Ramirez met with the indigenous protesters, and admitted that Congress had taken a pusillanimous stance to indigenous demands.

The spokespersons for the protesters expressed their concern over the deforestation of northern Paraguay by Brazilian smugglers and Paraguayan landholders and peasant farmers.

We are tired of wandering about alongside the highway, said Marecos. We want them to give us back part of what they took.

In a communique, the indigenous protesters argued that the Finance Ministry's planned eight million dollar cut in the National Indigenous Institute's budget would put an end to further land purchases, through which ancestral lands are being returned to the ethnic groups.