The indigenous peoples of Paraguay: a step closer to recognition following Lugo’s victory

The bishop’s victory ends 61 years of right-wing governments · The support of the Tekojoja party, which has a member of the indigenous community on its list for the Senate, was key to Lugo’s success.

It seems highly likely that Fernando Lugo, winner of the presidential elections in Paraguay, will seek greater recognition for the country’s indigenous peoples, following in the footsteps of other South American countries and especially Evo Morales’ pro-indigenous government in Bolivia.

Although Lugo, bishop of a Paraguayan diocese between 1994 and 2005, is not a member of an indigenous community himself, he attracted the support of several parties including the Tekojoja (“Equality” in the Guarani language) People’s Movement which defines itself as socialist and represents “social movements, farmers, indigenous people, young people, women [...] and all those affected by the current economic model”, according to the party’s election manifesto.

Margarita Mbyvângi, a tribal chief of the Aché people, is second on Tekojoja’s list of candidates in elections for the upper house. Another indigenous representative, of the Guarani people, is also on the list, but as an additional candidate.

Mbyvângi’s election to the Senate, which is now almost certain although the official results are yet to be published, is unprecedented in Paraguay’s history. Speaking to IPS, Mbyvângi herself said that “the government has forgotten us”, adding that her candidacy is a “very important opportunity to help Paraguayan indigenous communities”.

According to the last census, Paraguay’s indigenous population stands at 85,674 [pdf], or approximately 1.6% of the total population. Land ownership is one of the major problems faced by these communities, since large numbers lack permanent and legally-recognized settlements. This is one of the first things that Mbyvângi, as a senator, will try and change. In this country “where the distribution of land is scandalously weighted”, there is desperate need for agrarian reform.

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