'Most racist' article attacked Native peoples in Paraguay

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ASUNCION, Paraguay - The Most Racist Article of the Year Award for 2007, given by the human rights organization Survival International, goes to a Paraguayan newspaper that published an editorial describing Native people as ''a cancer'' and as having ''filthy habits.'' Indigenous advocates also point to economic aspects and severe oppression as being parts of the reason for the media attack.

SI's award is a new feature of its ''Stamp it Out'' campaign, which aims to challenge racist depictions of tribal people in the world's media. The winner, La Nacion of Asuncion, received a certificate March 21, inscribed with a quotation from Lakota Sioux author Luther Standing Bear: ''All the years of calling the Indian a savage has never made him one.''

Indigenous advocates from Paraguay are asserting, however, that the reasons behind the tirade are also economic, noting that the editorial writer is a hotel owner who claimed that the Native peoples were scaring away customers.

The targets of the article's vitriol are mainly Ava Guarani people who ended up living in a public park in the capital city of Asuncion for nine months, between January and September of last year. According to activists and attorneys involved in the issue, this group of families and others were supposed to be able to move into territory purchased for them - after their ancestors were forced off much of the same land - but problems have arisen in finishing the purchase arrangement.

These details did not appear in the editorial, titled ''Indians in Uruguay Square,'' published in La Nacion Sept. 13, 2007.

''A Neolithic Indian camp right in the city center is unthinkable, but there it is, like a dangerous cancer, spreading bad smells, destruction and contamination,'' wrote Osvaldo Dominguez Dibb, author of the editorial and owner of La Nacion and the new Crowne Plaza Hotel in Asuncion. ''The city's being punished for no reason, and it shouldn't have to pay for it. The Indians have to learn to live like people, or get back to the jungle.''

Dominguez Dibb did not respond to requests for comment about the award or the issues facing indigenous people in Paraguay. The editorial writer is the owner of the newspaper and the principal shareholder of Karmar, S.A., which purchased the Crowne Plaza Asuncion. This same hotel is near the park mentioned in the article. What is not mentioned in the article, according to the indigenous advocates, is that Native people in Paraguay have been violently oppressed for many years and that this latest situation is another reflection of those discriminatory conditions.

''They were camping there for nine months under polyethylene bags [plastic grocery bags],'' related Gustavo Torres, the member of Citizens in Solidarity with the Indigenous Struggle in charge of international outreach. ''... More than 400 people, mostly children, suffered from cold, hunger and illnesses on top of the humiliations heaped upon them by some members of the civilian population, specifically from the hotel owners that took out an ad on local TV stations urging the eviction of the indigenous people from the public plazas because they were scaring the tourists.''

As a result of the pressure exerted by the hotel owners and other business people in the area, the Ava Guaranis began to receive constant threats of eviction, Torres asserted. The Paraguayan government did not offer any solutions either, he added, other than to agree with the removal of the families.

Not long after the editorial's publication, the indigenous refugees were relocated to an area near an army base, outside of the city and away from the eyes of tourists, he noted.

''They are now living in a community called Tekojoja, on 730 acres of land,'' recounted Magdalena Fleytas, a colleague of Torres' and a member of the Citizens in Solidarity group.

''The purchase of this land [which remains unresolved] was a victory coming from 10 months of continuous pressure on the government to provide suitable land for farming for the people. But they are still living in tents made of plastic bags, with minimal food provisions from the National Indigenous Institute and the National Emergencies Secretary, no economic credit, no other raw materials for construction nor technical assistance for farm production,'' Fleytas stated. ''The agreements made with the authorities from Health and Education continue to be just promises.

''We also want people to know,'' she continued, ''about the terrible situation that indigenous people of Paraguay find themselves in.''

Fleytas and Torres said the citizens group and several Paraguayan indigenous organizations have tried to be heard in local and national media, to no avail.

Mirta Pereira, an attorney and consultant to the Coordinating Committee for the Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples, stated that her organization quickly drafted a response to the editorial but couldn't get anyone to publish it.

''In that same month,'' Pereira said, ''the committee, which represents 14 indigenous organizations from across the country, issued a press statement but got no coverage in local media.''

Pereira added that the CCSDIP has contacted the country's attorney general, various embassies, the United Nations, the Inter-American Press Society and the Organization of American States to publicize the situation. She asserted that despite the lack of response from local authorities, the CCCSDIP would continue to reach out to the international community.

While the offending editorial did mainly target the local Ava Guarani, it did make some disdainful allusions to other cultures, including some Native North American tribes, in its attempt to mock the work of visiting anthropologists.

In the penultimate paragraph of the editorial, Dominguez Dibb writes: ''The anthropologists want to have the Indians close at hand so they can study them like animals ... It's time to tell them that, instead, they should ... suggest to the 'sensible' people on the political left of the USA that they should bring Sioux tribes, Blackfeet, Pawnees and Dakotas to the Dupont Circle in Washington - an impossible idea because they killed all of them.''

In the near future, Periera and Torres noted, there will be a Web site and blog devoted to the struggles of indigenous Paraguayans, and that their cousins from North America are invited to visit the sites once they're established.