• 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

The Indigenous World 2021: Paraguay

Five linguistic families and 19 Indigenous Peoples self-identify in Paraguay: Guaraní (Aché, Avá Guaraní, Mbya, Pai Tavytera, Guaraní Ñandeva, Guaraní Occidental), Maskoy (Toba Maskoy, Enlhet North, Enxet South, Sanapaná, Angaité, Guaná), Mataco Mataguayo (Nivaclé, Maká, Manjui), Zamuco (Ayoreo, Yvytoso, Tomáraho) and Guaicurú (Qom). According to 2017 statistics, the country's Indigenous population numbers 122,461 individuals.

Chapter V of the 1992 Constitution recognises Indigenous Peoples as groups with cultures that precede the formation and organisation of the Paraguayan state, recognising their rights to ethnic identity, communal property, participation and an education that takes into account their specific cultures, etc.

Paraguay has a legal framework that guarantees and recognises a fairly wide range of rights to Indigenous Peoples, having ratified the main international human rights instruments, both in the universal and inter-American systems.

The distress in which Indigenous communities find themselves was reflected as never before in 2020, and this not only because of the effects of the pandemic. The crimes that Indigenous people living on the streets fall prey to are acts which, historically, could be considered to have begun to be perpetrated long before they are actually committed. Their origins lie in the persistent forced displacement of Indigenous people to the cities as a result of continued land grabbing, by means of forced eviction and criminalisation, as exemplified by several of the cases reported in this article. The paucity of public policies aimed at tackling these problems leaves Indigenous people at the mercy not only of a pandemic – which has reached their communities and from which they have had to defend themselves virtually alone – but also of big capital, which has redoubled its efforts and continues to promote agribusiness encroaching onto their lands and rights without the state intervening to protect them. This paucity of public policies also suffers from insufficient monitoring and supervision, leading both to the direct subjugation of Indigenous rights and to the introduction of external factors and actors into community issues, to the detriment of their rights.

Indigenous Peoples and the pandemic

The economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated pre-existing problems in society, mostly associated with the lack of a comprehensive social protection system, for example, or the poor public health service. These problems are exacerbated by conditions of poverty and extreme poverty or by contingent factors such as drought and forest fires, thus increasing Indigenous communities’ lack of protection.

The public health system is deficient and provides insufficient care for Indigenous communities, as acknowledged in the official statistics themselves. Existing health centres are poorly equipped and have limited human resources both in terms of quantity and specialisation and are – including the Indigenous promoters in the communities – overwhelmed by the needs of their beneficiary population. There are no therapy units available, insufficient ventilators and ambulances, and little personal protective equipment to distribute (masks, alcohol, etc.). This is compounded by the failure to prioritise and strengthen the National Directorate for Indigenous Peoples’ Health (DINASAPI) under the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare (MSPyBS). This lack of protection for the Indigenous population is not the sole responsibility of the MSPyBS but of other state ministries and institutions as well, such as the Paraguayan Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INDI), the Ministry of Public Works and Communications, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, the Ministry of Education and Science, the National Emergency Secretariat, the Institute of Social Security, the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development (MADES), the National Environmental Sewage Service (SENASA), and others. They all have specific obligations, such as legal and territorial assistance, food, labour and environmental protection and safety, the provision and maintenance of community roads, drinking water and other basic services, and have not addressed or prioritised the most basic needs of the Indigenous population, either before or during the pandemic.

From the very outset of the health emergency, the state failed to design prevention and protection measures for Indigenous communities despite its obligations arising from the unique legal status of these peoples’ own rights and international human rights law. Such measures should have taken into account their conditions of particular vulnerability due to the geographical location of many Indigenous communities, the critical lack of road infrastructure, and the situation of poverty and extreme poverty in which many of them find themselves.

The economic impact of the pandemic was, in turn, reflected primarily in a food crisis in many communities. These peoples were thus forced to protest publicly to demand food assistance and water. Such was the case of the Chaco communities, for example, which also suffered the onslaught of drought and forest fires. Some communities that were more compromised by their remoteness and the lack of roads even had to take legal action to ensure the corresponding institutions took up their duty of care to them. Such was the case of the Paiseyameixempa'a community, comprising the villages of Buena Vista and Colonia 96, which only received state assistance after filing an appeal for protection through a court in the capital. This was favourably received and “comprehensive assistance of the appellant” ordered.[1]

As far as health measures are concerned, the openness of the public health authorities to receiving proposals from civil society must be highlighted. This made it possible to implement a visit and contact protocol with the communities, and to disseminate the prevention measures recommended by the MSPyBS for the whole population in different languages, in addition to Spanish and Guaraní.

By the end of December 2020, 26 Indigenous persons had died in Paraguay, with 252 infected and, to date, 70 Indigenous communities belonging to 14 of the 19 Indigenous Peoples are at risk.[2]

Finally, in this context, one event occurred that demonstrates how exposed Indigenous workers are to arbitrary and discriminatory practices. Indigenous members of the Y'apy Santa Isabel community, in Yryvukua district, San Pedro department, reported having been injected with a veterinary product in order to prevent COVID-19.[3] The state’s intervention has not resulted in any public report on the government measures taken in this regard.[4]

Indigenous people on the street, suffering extreme violence and sexual exploitation

Violence against Indigenous people living on the streets reached alarming levels during the period in question, in terms of both the number and types of crimes observed. In addition, several people were subjected to extreme violence and there were also cases of sexual exploitation.

“Pleasure” killings. One case that caused a stir was that of Lorenzo Silva, a young Indigenous man who died while sleeping at a bus stop on the public highway. Silva was shot from a passing car. The perpetrator appears to have had no motive other than hatred towards people living in poverty on the streets, or for the mere “pleasure of killing”[5] as the papers reported in the days following the event.

Women and girl victims of violence. Cases involving Indigenous women and girl victims demonstrate particularly extreme levels of violence which, although not new[6] and recognising the multiple forms of this manifestation, were more visible this year. Among these was the case of a 12-year-old Indigenous girl from the Mbya Guaraní people whose dismembered body was found in a backpack near the bus terminal. And that of a 23-year-old street girl from the same people who was found dead in Caballero Park. Or another Indigenous girl who was found handcuffed and with signs of sexual abuse in an abandoned brewery, all in the city of Asunción. Meanwhile, in Itapúa, a 12-year-old girl was found dead in a cornfield, with signs of having been sexually assaulted.

Sexual exploitation. A complaint was also filed against the alleged sexual exploitation of children in the Jaguary Indigenous community,[7] located in the J. E. Estigarribia district, Caaguazú department. This case has the aggravating factor of having triggered the prosecution of two Indigenous leaders who denounced one of the cases. After an unusually premature dismissal of the claims they had brought to the attention of the Public Prosecutor's Office, they were charged with false reporting. This was likely a retaliation devised by powerful business interests that were not comfortable with the investigation of and publicity surrounding the serious events taking place not only in the community mentioned but in at least two others in the same area.[8]

No let up in land grabbing, even during the pandemic

The growing needs of agribusiness continue to put pressure on Indigenous territories, and the main tool used in this regard remains the same: forced evictions and the criminalisation of leaders. To this must be added the increasing use of armed non-state actors in the implementation of illegal evictions, as reported in several cases recorded during this reporting period.

Veraró community. Canindeyú department suffered numerous conflicts in 2020 associated with land disputes involving peasant settlements and Indigenous communities. In terms of the latter, the case of the Avá Guaraní people of Veraró community is noteworthy. Its leaders have been denouncing constant harassment from armed civilians since the end of 2019, aimed at completely depriving them of their lands. They already find themselves hemmed in on their land, resisting the onslaught, even though they hold the title to the plot, registered in the name of INDI. Thus far, none of the actions promoted by the state body has managed to reverse the situation and provide these people with security.[9]

Cases in Caaguazú. The other department where the human rights crisis is affecting Indigenous communities is Caaguazú, where there are regular media reports on evictions, Indigenous people living on the streets, and armed attacks on displaced communities. The National Organisation for Independent Native Peoples (ONAI) denounced the situation facing the communities of Guyra Payu[10] and Huguá Po'i[11], victims of parastate and state abuses, respectively. The former endured an eviction and intimidation by armed persons not identified as belonging to the security forces, which left 17 families in total distress on Route 2 after their belongings were destroyed and also thrown onto the public highway. The community of Huguá Po'i, also of the Mbya Guaraní people in the same department, who have reoccupied their lands after suffering several evictions years ago, were again intimidated at the beginning of 2020 by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Indigenous people’s determination and resistance prevented them from being evicted, however, although the threat still hangs over the community.

Jacuí Guasú community.[12] There are once again reports of armed civilians acting with particular violence to evict the Jacuí Guasú community (news reports are particularly descriptive in this regard).[13] The press version is also backed up by Senator Pedro Santa Cruz, who visited the site after the event and met with the victims of the attack.[14]

Yakye Axa: when access to a right also forms part of that right

The Enxet of Yakye Axa obtained a favourable ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2005 which, according to the ruling, should have been fully implemented within three years. This deadline was not met but, seven years later, they did manage to get the state to provide them with legally secure land for their resettlement. To date, however, 15 years after their rights were recognised by the Inter-American Court, they have not been able to fully occupy the lands because they are unable to access them.

The painful experience of getting this judgment implemented has been an endless struggle in which they have faced all kinds of discrimination, even though their rights are fully recognised and they are the owners, like any other legal entity, of land that their neighbours will not allow them to access. This is down to the state's failure to protect the community. The Enxet of Yakye Axa thus had land secured for their resettlement in 2012 but, due to the refusal of two private owners, who denied them passage, they were never able to occupy it. Congress had to pass a law expropriating the strip of land needed for the construction of the road in 2019.[15] This, in turn, required an amendment so that it could be implemented in 2020,[16] and this was in fact the highlight of the year.

The Loma case: cattle rustling and parliamentary protection[17]

Cattle ranchers have been denounced for invading 10,079 hectares of land that the Institute for Rural Welfare (IBR) – the predecessor to the current National Institute of Rural and Land Development (INDERT) – considered belonging to the Loma community of the Guaraní Ñandéva people in 1984 because it was an area of occupation and ancestral domain of this native people, who inhabit Boquerón department on the border with Bolivia and Argentina. The Paraguayan state ratified the titling of the land in favour of the community stating that the cattle ranchers who had grabbed it had to leave by August 2020 and return it to the Indigenous people.[18] The usurpers resisted, however, and ran a prolific media campaign aimed at discrediting the Indigenous leaders. In addition, its allied organisation, Alter Vida, found echo in the farming lobby of the Patria Querida Party, whose leader – the landowner Senator Fidel Zavala – has acted in clear support of the land grabbers, ignoring INDERT’s administrative decisions.[19]

Budget for a dignified life

In addition to neither offering equitable reductions nor being backed up by participatory or planned studies and reflections from the different public bodies, the austerity policy demanded for 2021 will disproportionately affect historically vulnerable sectors such as the Indigenous communities. With respect to INDI, the 2021 General Budget of the Nation tabled by the Executive has cut its resources by 16%. This is equivalent to USD 10.9 million. To put this into perspective, the amount allocated to land purchases would scarcely buy 600 hectares of land in the country at an average cost of USD 1,000 per hectare. This amount is dramatically insufficient and will only result in greater shortages for the country's Indigenous communities.

INDI’s anticipated budget seriously compromises the possibility of implementing actions in favour of land security, food production and the creation of basic services in the short term. This regressive budgetary policy reflects a budget that is not oriented towards human development. As is to be expected, it has provoked the reaction and demands of numerous Indigenous organisations and civil society allies, who have brought a proposal to reverse the situation before Congress, in the hope of greater financial allocations for 2021.[20]

Friendly solution took its time coming

On 28 May 2020, a law was passed “declaring of social interest and expropriating in favour of the Paraguayan Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INDI), for its subsequent award to the Y'akã Marangatú Indigenous community, Estate No. 581, Padrón 911, with an area of 219 hectares, 4,112 square meters in the district of Carlos Antonio López, Itapúa department”. The reasons behind this project include the need to restore the ancestral lands of the Indigenous community, by means of expropriation, in accordance with a duty to respect the community’s right to its lands, as well as the duty of the various agencies and powers of the Paraguayan state to work together for full compliance of Paraguay's international obligations, a situation celebrated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with a press release on the subject.[21]


COVID-19 was a good test of what still needs to be improved. As noted, the disease brought nothing new to the situation of Indigenous Peoples but rather deepened and aggravated the circumstances in which they find themselves. It also shone a greater light on the steps the state needs to take to advance the realisation of their rights.

2020 was clearly a year in which the state could not be expected to function normally in terms of implementing specific plans. However, there is a feeling that this unforeseen situation has also served as an excuse to put a stop to activities which, even with the pandemic, could have been completed. For example, intercultural dialogue, the coordination of efforts and public works (which was one of the most authorised activities in the different health phases dictated by the government).

The state has a wonderful opportunity to learn from the fact that it does not need to be in the midst of a health, food, or climate-related emergency to take concrete preventive and mitigating actions, nor to develop planned, progressive measures agreed with the Indigenous Peoples in terms of their human rights.


Julia Cabello Alonso and Oscar Ayala Amarilla are human rights lawyers and form part of the institution “Tierraviva a los Pueblos Indígenas del Chaco”. This article is based on the Annual Human Rights Report for Paraguay 2020, prepared by the authors for the Human Rights Coordinating Body of Paraguay (CODEHUPY). Available at: http://codehupy.org.py/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Informe-Anual-Sobre-la-Situacio%CC%81n-de-los-DDHH-en-Paraguay-2020.pdf

This article is part of the 35th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2021 in full here


Notes and references 

[1] “Ordenan asistencia integral para comunidad indígena” [Comprehensive assistance ordered for the Indigenous community]. Tierraviva, accessed 4 October 2020. http://www.tierraviva.org.py/ordenan-asistencia-integral-para-comunidad-indigena/

[2] “Población indígena rural y urbana con casos confirmados de COVID-19” [Rural and urban Indigenous population with confirmed cases of COVID-19]. Tierras Indígenas, accessed 7 December 2020. https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/2a1e7ad30b3549d18b298f51f911b524

[3] “Indígenas inyectados con medicamento animal presentan malestares” [Indigenous people injected with animal medicine present discomfort]. El Independiente, 20 July 2020, accessed 4 October 2020. https://independiente.com.py/indigenas-inyectados-con-medicamento-animal-presentanmalestares/

[4] “Comitiva corroborará denuncia de nativos obligados a vacunarse con antiparasitario de uso animal” [Comitiva will corroborate natives’ complaint of forced vaccination with antiparasitic product of veterinary use]. Agencia IP, 20 July 2020, accessed 4 October 2020. https://www.ip.gov.py/ip/comitiva-interinstitucional-corroboraradenuncia-de-nativos-obligados-a-vacunarse-con-antiparasitarios-de-uso-animal/

[5] “Identifican al indígena asesinado y no descartan crimen de odio” [Murdered Indian identified: hate crime not ruled out]. ABC Color, 17 December 2019, accessed 4 October 2020. https://www.abc.com.py/nacionales/2019/12/17/identifican-al-indigena-asesinado-y-no-descartancrimen-de-odio/

[6] Gómez, Rocío “La silenciosa violencia contra niñas indígenas en Paraguay” [Silent violence against Indigenous girls in Paraguay]. La Nación, 31 May 2019, accessed 4 October 2020. https://www.lanacion.com.py/pais_edicion_impresa/2019/05/31/la-silenciosa-violencia-contra-ninasindigenas-en-paraguay/

[7]“Denuncian explotación sexual de niños indígenas en J. Eulogio Estigarribia” [Sexual exploitation of Indigenous children denounced in J. Eulogio Estigarribia]. La Nación, 4 June 2020, accessed 4 October 2020. https://www.lanacion.com.py/pais/2020/06/04/denuncian-explotacion-sexual-de-ninosindigenas-en-j-eulogio-estigarribia/

 [8]“Líderes indígenas del Dpto. de Caaguazú son detenidos y procesados judicialmente luego de reunirse con la CODEHUPY” [Indigenous leaders from Caaguazú department detained and prosecuted after meeting with CODEHUPY]. Codehupy, 15 July 2020, accessed 4 October 2020. http://codehupy.org.py/lideres-indigenasdel-dpto-de-caaguazu-son-detenidos-y-procesados-judicialmente-luego-de-reunirse-con-la-codehupy/

 [9]“Comunidad indígena de Canindeyú denuncian atropellos y quema de viviendas” [Indigenous community of Canindeyú denounces abuses and burning of houses]. Última Hora, 5 December 2019, accessed on 4 October 2020. https://www.ultimahora.com/comunidad-indigena-canindeyu-denuncian-atropellosy-quema-viviendas-n2858404.html

[10] “Repudian violento desalojo y atropello a comunidad indígena en Caaguazú” [Violent eviction and overrunning of Indigenous community in Caaguazú disowned]. Última Hora, 8 August 2020, accessed 5 October 2020. https://www.ultimahora.com/repudian-violento-desalojo-y-atropello-comunidad-indigenacaaguazu-n2898895.html.

 [11]“Hugua Po’i resiste al desalojo”. [Hugua Po'i resists eviction]. E’a, 11 February 2020, accessed 5 October 2020. http://ea.com.py/hugua-poiresiste-al-desalojo/

[12] González Vera, Roque: “Indígenas mbya denuncian a civiles armados que arrasaron sus viviendas” [Mbya Indians denounce armed civilians who destroyed their homes]. ABC Color, 27 October 2020, accessed 5 October 2020. https://www.abc.com.py/nacionales/2020/10/27/indigenas-mbyadenuncian-a-civiles-armados-que-arrasaron-sus-viviendas/

[13] “Desalojan a nativos que vivieron dos décadas en un asentamiento” [Natives evicted after two decades living in their settlement}. Noticias Paraguay, 26 October 2020, accessed 26 October 2020. https://npy.com.py/2020/10/desalojan-a-nativos-que-vivieron-dos-decadas-en-unasentamiento/

[14] Santa Cruz, Pedro Arthuro, “Comunidad indígena Ysyry Miri - Mbya Guaraní desalojado por agro-toro,” [Ysyry Miri - Mbya Guaraní Indigenous community evicted by Agro-toro] 30 October 2020. https://www.facebook.com/100001114765720/videos/3389100934470365/

[15] “Senadora entrega copia de Ley de expropiación a comunidad de Yakye Axa” [Senator delivers copy of Expropriation Law to Yakye Axa community] Senate, 11 December 2019, accessed 3 October 2020. http://www.senado.gov.py/index.php/noticias/noticias-comisiones/5059-senadora-entrega-copia-de-la-ley-de-expropiacion-a-comunidad-de-yakye-axa-2019-12-11-16-57-10

[16] “Iniciarán trabajo de construcción del #CaminoAyakyeAxa” [Work to begin on the construction of #CaminoAyakyeAxa]. Tierraviva. http://www.tierraviva.org.py/iniciaran-trabajosde-construccion-del-caminoayakyeaxa/

[17] Manzoni, Maxi “Ganaderos invaden y deforestan tierras indígenas en el Chaco” [Cattle ranchers invade and deforest Indigenous lands in the Chaco]. El Surtidor, 26 September 2020, accessed 4 October 2020. https://elsurti.com/futuros/reportaje/2020/09/26/ganaderos-invaden-y-deforestantierras-indigenas-en-el-chaco/

[18] González Vera, Roque: “Ante atropello a la comunidad, Indert sale en favor de indígenas ñandéva” [Faced with the community being overrun, Indert comes out in favour of the Ñandéva Indians]. ABC Color, 19 October 2020, accessed 4 October 2020. https://www.abc.com.py/nacionales/2020/10/19/ante-atropello-a-lacomunidad-indert-sale-en-favor-de-indigenas-nandeva/

[19] “Senador Zavala defiende a ganaderos que invadieron comunidad Guaraní Ñandéva” [Senator Zavala defends cattle ranchers who invaded the Guarani Ñandéva community]. E’a, 15 October 2020, accessed 4 October 2020. http://ea.com.py/senador-zavala-defiende-a-ganaderos-que-invadieron-comunidadguarani-nandeva/

[20]Articulación Nacional Indígena por una Vida Digna “Presupuesto Digno. Proposal for a General Budget of the Nation that guarantees the restitution of the rights and development of Paraguay’s Indigenous Peoples”, October 2020. http://www.tierraviva.org.py/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Propuesta-Presupuesto-Digno-2021.pdf

[21] “CIDH saluda aprobación del proyecto de Ley de expropiación de tierras…” [IACHR welcomes approval of the draft bill on land expropriations]. OAS, 29 July 2020, accessed 4 October 2020. http://www.oas.org/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2020/181.asp




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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