Archive for Paraguay
www.telegraph.co.uk 5th July 2011
The Natural History Museum, London, has postponed its biggest research expedition in 5o years following claims by human rights groups that it could put the lives of indigenous Paraguayan people at risk. The expedition intended to explore a vast dry forest called ‘Gran Chaco’ in the country, which holds the same biodiversity as the Amazon and has yet to be studied properly. However, concern was raised that the 40 scientists, along with their backup teams, may stumble across remote indigenous tribes that live in voluntary isolation. If this were to occur, the spreading of diseases may prove fatal to local people, just as they did 500 years ago when the Spanish and the English first alighted in the New World. The safety of the scientists was also questioned as some tribes, for example the Ayoreo, carry bows and arrows. The trip is now in a consultation period as the Paraguayan government discusses the venture with the Ayoreo tribe. The Natural History Museum has said that they would not go until “all parties were happy”. The Ayoreo are particularly important as the expedition hoped to work with them to learn local knowledge of the Gran Chaco’s environment. The forest, believed to home around 150 uncontacted people (down from 5,000 in 1950), is under severe threat from soy farming.
www.guardian.co.uk 22nd October 2010
An article written in the Guardian newspaper has drawn angry criticism from the people it was written about. On the 5th October, veteran journalist John Vidal wrote a piece on the state of the Chaco forests in Paraguay and the role local Mennonite groups and Brazilian ranchers played in the deforestation. The defining statistic in the article was that in the past 4 years, 10% (or 1 million hectares) of the forest has been destroyed to make way for intensive farming practices. Following the publication of Mr. Vidal’s piece online, angry retorts were printed in local newspapers in Paraguay claiming the article was unfair and unfounded. Read the heated debate on the link above and the original article here.
www.guardian.co.uk 5th October 2010
A fundamentalist Christian prevalent across much of Latin America has, with the help of Brazilian ranchers, managed to deforest a tenth of Paraguay’s Chaco forest, the second largest body of woodland outside of the Amazon, in just four years. Worldwide food shortages and rock-bottom land prices in the country have meant that the forest has been felled at a worryingly fast pace in order to produce prairie style grassland for the lucrative cattle industry. The dry woodland, found in northern Paraguay, is the known home to 3,400 plant species, 500 bird species, 150 species of mammals (including jaguars and pumas), 120 species of reptiles, and 100 species of amphibians making it one of the most diverse in the world. A team of 60 scientists from the Natural History Museum in London is due to carry out research in the area this November and they expect to find several hundred more species. The Chaco Forest is also home to 20,000 Indians who had no contact with Western society until the 1930s when a fundamentalist Christian group called the Mennonites, mostly formed of Russian and Eastern European people fleeing Communist persecution, were given remote areas of land to farm. The group continue to this day and are responsible for a large amount of the deforestation in the region. Booming land prices from $10 a hectare to $200 in just a few years however have made the sect, which includes the Amish of Pennsylvania, very wealthy indeed. Together the Mennonites and the Brazilian ranchers own as much as 5 million hectares according to the Paraguayan government. But with aggressive expansion by both groups this figure is likely to increase. This news is in stark contrast to that of Brazil where the government has stated that deforestation of the Amazon has come to a halt.
The Chaco forest has a history of being able to repel human invaders however. The Spanish conquistadores of the 16th century found the climate, the woodland, and the indigenous tribes of the region impenetrable and left it largely alone. A Bolivian invasion in 1932 also saw a foreign army defeated by the heat and lack of water.