“We are pleased that finally the Government has returned our land to us, land that has always been ours. After over 10 years we have finally managed to recover part of our ancestral territory”, says Celso Benítez, leader of Kelyenmagategma community.
The 70 Exhlet Sur indigenous families who make up the community of Kelyenmagategma have been demanding legal title to this portion of their ancestral territory since 2000. Much of their decade long struggle was spent in a precarous campsite where they were subjected to human rights violations including two violent evictions, constant harassment and death threatsand legal persecution of its community leaders –reportedly perpetuated by the livestock company El Algarrobal S.A. which is situated on the land claimed by Keleyenmagategma. The precarious living conditions also created serious health and food security concerns for the community causing a number of preventable deaths in old people and children.
In 2004 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued protection measures for the community and refered the case to the Inter-American court.
Chaco Program partners in Paraguay accompany two indigenous organizations which have been providing constant support to Keleynmagategma. The Federation of Indigenous Organizations and Peoples of the Paraguayan Chaco and the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Leaders of Chaco provided technical support and advice and organised a wide range of advocacy actions including mass mobilisations to raise awareness of of their case. They also provided essential moral support to the community as it began to loose hope of ever re-gaining their territory.
On 17 June the community received news that the Government had purchased 8748 hectares of the land for them. The final handover of the title was signed by the INDI on 29 July 2011 and the community were able to re-locate in December followed by a one week celebration as they begin to build a new life. The community will continue to demand the remaining portion of its land claim which includes an ancestral Exhlet Sur cemetary and other areas of spiritual significance to the community.
The Chaco program is a long-term tri-national effort led by CWS to improve the quality of life of the indigenous peoples of South America’s Chaco region by strengthening the capacity of communities to promote their right to recover land and live free of hunger and oppression.
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Photo: Fionuala Cregan