Using the power of photojournalism to expose social, economic and ecological injustice

 “Sharing the Eye” Photo Essay by Orin Langelle

In the Ayoreo settlement of Campo Lorro, Chaco, Paraguay

Paraguay’s right-wing coup that ousted Fernando Lugo’s government in June 2012 hardly made North American news.  Typical.  How many people care anyway about that small landlocked nation?

I visited and photographed the Ayoreo indigenous community of Campo Lorro (Parrot Field) in the Chaco region of Paraguay. The photos in this essay were taken in early 2009 of a community and people struggling for survival.

I was invited by the Ayoreo people who live in Campo Lorro to take photographs in a project called “Sharing the Eye.”  An elder leader of the community walked with me through their lands, village, houses and workplaces–sharing his vision with me.

Survival International reports, “Since 1969 many [Ayoreo] have been forced out of the forest, but some still avoid all contact with outsiders.

“Their first sustained contact with white people came in the 1940s and 1950s, when Mennonite farmers established colonies on their land. The Ayoreo resisted this invasion, and there were killings on both sides.”

Campo Lorro is the largest compound of Ayoreo in captivity. When I visited Paraguay again, in the latter part of 2014, these compounds were now called concentration camps as the situation in the Chaco is rapidly disintegrating.

In 2009, I traveled with Dr. Miguel Lovera, part of the Ayoreo support group Iniciativa Amotocodie.

Dr. Miguel Lovera later became the President of SENAVE, the National Plant Protection Agency, during the government of Fernando Lugo, until the so-called constitutional coup ousted Paraguay’s elected President on 22 June 2012.

Because of the  coup, Dr. Lovera lost his job as President of SENAVE. While with the National Plant Protection Agency, Lovera was in constant battle with the “soy mafia” and tried to stop the introduction of GMO cotton.  It is easy to specualate that Paraguay’s agribusiness leaders and their friends at Monsanto were not upset  that Lovera , along with Lugo, were removed from office.

Scene of the brickworks of Campo Lorro

Ayoreo brick worker

The photos in this essay were displayed in an exhibit in Campo Lorro in the summer of 2009. Campo Lorro is a 10,000-hectare field that was given to the community in exchange for their nomadic realm of more than 10 million hectares. The Ayoreo were the masters of the harsh northern Gran Chaco territory. They lived off hunting and gathering. Because they posed a “threat” to the expansion of white “civilization,” they were forced into settlements.  The subhuman confinement conditions, which subdued these proud people, depleted their self-esteem.

Outside the machine shop in Campo Lorro

Fixing bicycles

Prior to the coup, these Ayoreo were in the process of regaining their dignity through the recovery of their culture and territorial rights through the Union of Native Ayoreo of Paraguay (UNAP).  The people of Campo Lorro were regaining their dignity.  Now with the coup, the situation with the Ayoreo is uncertain although becoming more threatening.

There are still uncontacted Ayoreo living in the Gran Chaco.  They do not want contact with “civilization” and wish to remain in their forest home. Today, however, unsustainable livestock farming, along with the expansion of genetically modified soybean plantations for biofuels, hydroelectric dams and mineral exploitation threaten the forests of the Chaco.

A March 2012 New York Times article  points out, “At least 1.2 million acres of the Chaco have been deforested in the last two years, according to satellite analyses by Guyra, an environmental group in Asunción, the capital. Ranchers making way for their vast herds of cattle have cleared roughly 10 percent of the Chaco forest in the last five years, Guyra said. That is reflected in surging beef exports.

“Paraguay already has the sad distinction of being a deforestation champion,” said José Luis Casaccia, a prosecutor and former environment minister, referring to the large clearing in recent decades of Atlantic forests in eastern Paraguay for soybean farms; little more than 10 percent of the original forests remain.

“If we continue with this insanity,” Mr. Casaccia said, “nearly all of the Chaco’s forests could be destroyed within 30 years.”

“Killing tower” (left) where the first white settlers shot Ayoreo as “civilization” came to the Chaco

A (2009) Ayoreo grave

With the coup and the constant development schemes in the Chaco, what will become of the proud Ayoreo people?

Note: For more information on Paraguay’s predicament please see he excellent case study The Environmental and Social Impacts of Unsustainable Livestock Farming and Soybean Production in Paraguay prepared by Dr. Miguel Lovera on behalf of the Centro de Estudios e Investigacion de Derecho Rural y Reforma Agrara de la Universidad Catolica de Asuncion, Paraguay and Global Forest Coalition. The case study can be downloaded at this site.

Additionally in December 2014, I published, The Pillaging of Paraguay Photo Essay and Analysis.

All photographs are copyrighted by Langelle Photography (2015), all rights reserved. No photo can be used without the consent of Langelle Photography.  See Publishing and Acquisition Information.

Why Copyright?  One of the reasons I copyright my photographs is to track where these photos are being used in order to monitor the impact of my work and evaluate the effectiveness of Langelle Photography, a nonprofit organization.

2 Responses to “Ayoreo People of the Chaco”

  1. Winifred McDowell

    Thank you for your thoughtful, poignant, touching photographs of the people of the Chaco.
    A brief visit to the Chaco of Paraguay in 1998 provided many memories of a warm, wonderful
    people. It is sad to know that they, too, are enduring the horrors of development,

    • Langelle Photography

      Hi Winifred,

      Thanks for your remarks on the Ayoreo photos. I was very moved by the community I visited, though sad of how it all happened. I guess that can be said of numerous places and peoples. When you went to the Chaco did you see the colonizing settlement of Filidelfia? Cheers–Orin


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