“Without land there is no future. As a community, we can now begin to build our future,” says Aníbal Flores, leader of Yakye Axa, on recovering 11,000 hectares of ancestral land in Paraguay.
The 67 families who make up Yakye Axa have been living in a roadside camp since 1998 without basic services such as water, food, adequate housing, education or health. They were the first indigenous community in Paraguay to bring their land claim case to the Inter-American Human Rights system in January 2000.
Five years later, the court ruled that indigenous people’s right to land was greater than private interest and called on the Paraguayan Government to return the land to the Yakye Axa by July 2008. The deadline passed and the community continued to live in their roadside campsite, ignored by the government.
During this time, the CWS Chaco Program provided support to the leaders of Yakye Axa. This included financial support to cover travel, food and lodging in the capital Asunción where they were required to follow up on the land claim process and carry out advocacy actions to keep up the pressure on the authorities.
CWS Chaco Program members also carried out regular community visits to provide moral support to the families in the face of the low morale that often affected them. They faced long delays in the land claim process, as well as the difficult living conditions by the roadside. Workshops on human rights and indigenous rights were also provided to leaders and community representatives through Chaco Program´s support to the Federation of Indigenous Organizations and Peoples of the Paraguayan Chaco and the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Leaders of Chaco.
“As indigenous leaders we face a lot of pressure,” says Aníbal Flores. “We have to keep the community motivated and united and make sure they don´t lose hope. Over the years many people wanted to leave but I convinced them to stay. It is easy to become disillusioned as a leader but if this happens, our whole struggle is placed at risk. The solidarity and support we received has been crucial for us. It helped us keep up the pressure on the government, and finally it has worked.”
On the day the agreement was signed, in March 2012, with the Paraguayan Government which purchased this ancestral territory from a private estate owner, Aníbal says he felt a sense of “absolute joy.”
“Finally we will have a place that is ours – not a temporary dwelling – but land that belonged to our ancestors and which we will now return to and work together to cultivate and live together in a permanent place.”
As of August 2014, Yakye Axa continue to live in the roadside camp while they wait for the government to build an access road to their land.
Now in its tenth year, the CWS Chaco Program supports efforts by the indigenous peoples of the Chaco to reclaim their ancestral lands and assist them to effectively occupy the regained territories. For centuries, these groups lived as semi-nomadic hunter gatherers before losing most of their land to the cattle and agro-industry. Today they have been squeezed on to small plots of land where they live in conditions of extreme poverty. The CWS Chaco Program has helped recover 2878km2 of land – a territory the size of Trinidad and Tobago.
Photo: Aníbal Flores, of the Yakye Axa people of Paraguay (ACT CWS Paul Kelly)
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