• Indigenous peoples in Paraguay

    Indigenous peoples in Paraguay

    There are 19 indigenous peoples in Paraguay. Although Paraguay has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the fundamental rights of the country’s indigenous peoples are continuously violated. They are especially challenged by structural discrimination and lack of economic, social, and cultural rights.
  • Peoples

    19 different indigenous peoples together constitute Paraguay’s indigenous population
  • Rights

    2007: Paraguay votes in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous World 2019: Paraguay

According to the third National Census of Population and Housing for Indigenous Peoples in 2012, 117,150 people living in Paraguay (2% of the Paraguayan population) self-identify as indigenous. They belong to a total of 19 indigenous peoples. The population that self-identifies as belonging to or being descendants of one of these 19 indigenous peoples are distributed over 5 linguistic families: Guaraní (Aché, Avá Guaraní, Mbya, Pai Tavytera, Guaraní  Ñandeva, Western  Guaraní), Maskoy (Toba Maskoy, Enlhet North, Enxet South, Sanapaná, Angaité, Guaná), Mataco Mataguayo (Nivaclé, Maká, Manjui), Zamuco (Ayoreo, Yvytoso, Tomáraho) and Guaicurú (Qom). It should be noted that the census did not record, although it did mention, the Ayoreo people living in voluntary isolation.

Indigenous peoples have constitutionally recognised rights in the Republic of Paraguay, set out in a constitution dating from 1992. Chapter V of the Constitution recognises indigenous peoples as cultural groups. They are acknowledged as predating the formation and organisation of the Paraguayan state. The Constitution further recognises rights that correspond to indigenous peoples. Paraguay has an extensive legal framework that guarantees and recognises a very broad range of rights in favour of indigenous peoples. It has ratified the principal instruments of International Human Rights Law, both of the universal system and the Inter-American system. Paraguay has recognised the main human rights instruments, including ILO Convention 169, and transposed its body of regulations into national legislation. It is also a member of and has obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and its bodies. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has issued three rulings with high standards of indigenous rights, in particular related to territorial rights. However, the state lacks regulatory laws and effective programmes of implementation. Indigenous peoples’ rights are constantly being violated.


A special focus on the situation of indigenous human rights defenders, it should be noted that as each five-year cycle comes to a close for the Office of the President of Paraguay, there is a decline in the respect for and guaranteeing of the rights of indigenous peoples. They are the most disadvantaged segment in a society characterized by social inequality, and are victimized by structural discrimination. Even so, their rights are repeatedly extolled in the principal candidates’ election campaign speeches.1 

The legacy of the Horacio Cartes administration

The outgoing Horacio Cartes administration (2013-2018) was marked by an absence of policies for overcoming poverty, as well as pro-business leanings, with rhetoric tied to achieving progress through mega-investments. The rights of indigenous peoples were ignored by the administration, and their lands were viewed as areas for expansion of major business projects.2 In this context, the government’s protective actions became ever-weaker, taking the form of generic obligations and protection plans related to containing and reducing poverty. This, in turn, was coupled with setbacks in Paraguay’s restitution policy, which lacked a budget and had no ascertainable priorities.3

The Cartes administration, under this business model, advocated the promotion, expansion and extension of the exportation system, together with a concentration of land under latifundistas.4 The administration’s advocacy was bolstered through both legal and illicit mechanisms and coupled with business alliances with the private and transnational sectors.5 The administration’s pro-business agenda, which prioritised economic interests, has left a problematic legacy, which the new administration of Mario Abdo Benítez must contend with.

Indigenous peoples lack access to information with regards to this new administration’s designations concerning government posts on indigenous matters. Without this information, they have difficulty assessing how appropriate these designations are, and what the outcomes thereof might be. Upon taking office, President Mario Abdo Benítez designated Ana María Allen Dávalos as the president of the Paraguayan Institute for the Indigenous. Less than one hundred days after taking that post, she found herself facing resistance from indigenous sectors, who accused her of being unfit for the job due to her management approach and inability to speak in the local language.

Disappearances and threats

 The turn towards ultra-conservatism in the region will potentially aggravate the conflict along the border zone, where de facto powers associated with agro-business routinely engage in violence, including disappearances and threats in response to territorial claims.

Amada Martínez, an educator and human rights defender from the indigenous Tekoha Sauce community of the Avá Guaraní Paranaense people, was violently detained and threatened by five men dressed as park rangers and armed with shotguns and revolvers. At the time of the incident, she was with her 7 year-old son, her sister, and her nephews. The men aimed their weapons at them and threatened them, presumably due to Ms. Martínez’s work in defence of her community’s human rights.6 Following the incident, the Assistant Minister of Internal Security ordered that the community be visited, and that a post be installed as a protective measure. Community members requested to have a police patrol provide security at certain hours of the day.

The Itakyry community, which has experienced several cases of abuse and forced displacements, found itself obligated to take to the streets to demand title to their lands and the quashing of the arrest warrant issued against several of its leaders.7 The case, and the abuses and forced displacement were reported in The Indigenous World 2018.

At the start of 2018, members of the Jetyty Mirí community had already been present for an entire month in the country’s capital, where they denounced how they had been evicted, the burning of their homes, and how they were forced from their lands. Under extraordinarily precarious conditions, they hoped for a response and support which never came. The situation of abandonment was so extreme that a pregnant indigenous woman, whose son died while still in her womb, had no place to bury him other than where they were, in the city’s main square.8

The Makutinga community of the Mbya Guaraní have faced repeated conflicts with local police. At one point, more than 50 policemen and ten patrol cars seized the soybean crop from the indigenous community.9 Despite the case being submitted, no action has yet been taken.

On 16 September 2016, 27-year-old Isidoro Barrios from Tacuara’i community, was disappeared following a confrontation between indigenous persons and the guards of a group of Brazilian settlers. The conflict arose around a claim for 1,500 hectares of traditional territory from the Avá Guaraní Paranaense people, in Corpus Christi, Department of Can- indeyú, where 170 families reside.

A visit by the Human Rights Coordinating Body of Paraguay (CODEHUPY) verified the dire situation of these families, and the lack of medical care or humanitarian assistance to support the elderly, children and youth within the occupied area. CODEHUPY expressed great concern over the government’s approach to the conflict, given the role of agro-business and the dynamics of power in the border zone. They stated:

Up until now it [the government] has solely been focused on adopting measures aimed at protecting the private property of certain individuals, without considering indigenous property rights under the legal framework granted by the Constitution of the Republic and international human rights law in effect for such matters.10

Indigenous participation in the general elections

The general elections held on 20 April 2018 saw an increase in indigenous participation. A series of politically-driven I.D. campaigns throughout 2016 granted the indigenous people of Bajo Chaco identification documents which allowed them to participate in the elections, often for the first time. In addition to the campaign which was launched in 2016, participation in electoral politics by indigenous peoples in general, and indigenous women in particular, improved in Paraguay, with training and support provided to assist in the registration of these groups in the Permanent Civil Registry.11

In addition,  the  Pluri-national  Indigenous  Political  Movement (MPIP) ran indigenous candidates on its election ticket. These candidates sought positions in both chambers of Congress, governorships, and departmental councils.12 Gerónimo Ayala, of the Mbyá Guaraní people, an MPIP candidate for Senator, obtained more than 25,000 votes.

Destruction of Mbyá Guaraní ceremonial objects

Based on a video that went viral on social media, the Ethnic Rights Office of the government attorney’s office filed charges against an Evangelical pastor identified as Serafín Navarro, for the commission of punishable acts against Peoples: Genocide and War Crimes.13 During the incident, which occurred at the home of a 97-year-old indigenous elder, the pastor “confiscated” and destroyed ritual objects belonging to the Mbyá Guaraní people. He claimed to be “expelling demons”14 as he broke them. This was a flagrant violation of the rights recognised in Article 63 of the National Constitution and Article 5 of Convention 169. This incident emphasised how indigenous culture is still deeply stigmatised in the eyes of the dominant society.

Ex-president of the Paraguayan Indigenous Institute (INDI) and officials found guilty of corruption

Corruption in 2018 has become a key topic in public debate. Particularly because of how it affects the quality and effectiveness of governance. The government is seen either as weak in enforcing anti-corruption standards and laws, or as a legislative agent of ad hoc norms that increase the lack of accountability in relation to corruption.

Rubén Darío Quesnel Velázquez, the former president of the INDI, was sentenced to ten years of incarceration, plus a four-year bar from holding public office, for the crimes of “breach of trust” and “embezzlement”, as well as a fine of fifty times his daily salary.15 Although there were several stays16, Quesnel was found guilty of misappropriating PYG 3.127 billion (approximately USD 520,000) earmarked for the Sawhoyamaxa and Yakye Axa indigenous communities of the Chaco as part of the restitution established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In 2015, Quesnel Velázquez had been found guilty of the crimes of “breach of trust” and “abandonment of duty”, based on an illicit sale of 25,000 hectares of lands of the Cuyabia community of the Ayoreo people, with a value of PYG 1.250 billion (approximately USD 208,000) and sentenced to six years and six months of incarceration. In addition, a former administrator of the entity and another former official were sentenced to six years and three and a half years, respectively, for embezzlement. The verdicts were appealed and, as of the writing of this report, are pending a decision from the Appellate Court.

Notes and references

  1. EFE Agency, 13 February, Available at: http://bit.ly/2IKx4vJ; EFE Agency, 9 August, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2IIq6XP.
  2. Ayala Amarilla, Óscar (2014). Los derechos de los pueblos indígenas en tiempos de una impronta empresarial para el Estado. In Yvypóra Derécho Paraguáipe Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 2014 (pp. 65-77). Asunción: CODEHUPY.
  1. Ayala Amarilla, Óscar (2015). Recuento de un año con reminiscencias autoritarias, donde lo indígena parece no In Yvypóra Derécho Paraguáipe Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 2015 (pp. 55-62). Asunción: CODEHUPY.
  2. Mendieta Miranda, Maximiliano and Cabello Alonso, Julia (2016). Discriminación estructural del Estado paraguayo contra los pueblos indígenas. Políticas Neoliberales y acciones ilegales como instrumento de violaciones de los derechos territoriales. In Yvypóra Derécho Paraguáipe Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 2016 (pp. 55-65). Asunción:
  3. Barreto, Verónica (2017). Sintomatología de la agudización neoliberal en agravio a los pueblos indígenas en el In Yvypóra Derécho Paraguáipe Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 2017 (pp. 59-73). Asunción: CODEHUPY.
  4. Amnesty International (2018). Challenging Raising the Profile of Women Human Rights Defenders. Available at: http://bit.ly/2IKxceH
  5. ABC Color, 27 September, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2IHQXmV
  6. Última Hora, 22 January, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2IHQZLz
  7. Última Hora, 10 November, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2IMFT8a
  8. CODEHUPY, 12 November, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2IJY8ew
  9. ABC Color, 3 May, Available at: http://bit.ly/2ILTZ9K
  10. Univisión, 20 April, Available at: http://bit.ly/2IJfMir
  11. Última Hora, 14 September, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2IHv7A0
  12. ABC Color, 14 September, Available at: http://bit.ly/2IIL09t
  13. Última Hora, 29 August, Available at: http://bit.ly/2IKFZgJ
  14. Case of: “Rubén Darío Quesnel Velázquez, Marlene Ysabel Mendoza Ferreira, Ever Ramón Otazo Martínez, and Oscar Enrique Viera Domínguez RE: Breach of Trust and Embezzlement” No. 1-1-2-37-2013-90.

Mario J. Barrios Cáceres is an attorney and university instructor. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Tierraviva, serving the indigenous peoples of the Chaco.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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