When our house burned, it was like we lost our grandparents. Paraguay Indian tribe protest stolen funds under freezing temperatures.

police and indians paraguay

 
We headed out to the Governor’s office, where the protest was happening. It's already been 15 days since it began, about 250 Pai Tavytera Indians camping in front of Governor's office to protest the 15 million de Guaranies (About $4,000 USD)  that was embezzled by the Government  which had been allocated  to the Indians, to combat the deadly dengue fever and provide school lunches for their children.

The sun had set, and it was bitterly cold. The wind cut through our clothes without mercy. This has been a harsh winter, with the temperature reaching down to 2 degrees Celsius, or 35 degrees Fahrenheit, without even factoring in wind-chill. When we arrived, it felt like we were entering a battle ground.  The Pai Tavytera Indians had brought their bows and arrows with them, clearly anticipating some type of confrontation.  We called our contact and he told us he wouldn't  be able to meet us until later.  Venturing alone, when we got there we didn't know any of the people we were able to see there. We made our way to the center of the protesters, where there was a makeshift stage with a microphone and large speaker. My previous visit with the protesters had been very scary. As I approached before, I heard over the loudspeaker a message repeated many times: “Don’t trust any reporter or anyone with a camera! They all want to distort our image of a peaceful protest! Don’t trust the non-natives!” I could understand their concern, as the media was blaming them for the burning of their own cherished sacred hut.


arson paraguay indian guarani pai tavytera

This time was different; there was no one at the microphone, no one standing upon the two raised planks that made up the makeshift stage. There were only people making food and huddling next to the fire for warmth. As we got closer, we saw a group of kids. They stood in a perfect line, waiting to be given a winter coat by the elders who were distributing clothing which had been donated.

donations to Indians

I asked to speak to the leaders. A woman then picked up the mic and asked for Oscar or Lorena.  ”There are people looking for you here!” She announced. I noticed all eyes fixed upon me now. Everyone seemed to stop their conversations to turn to see who these strangers were, and I could see their eyes staring at me and my camera. My heart sank, and I honestly feared I was going to be taken prisoner because I had been warned before that they didn't like people with cameras. People kept looking at me with my camera in hand, pointing me out to others who gave me some pretty hard stares. The seconds passed tortuously slow, my feelings of unease increasing until I recognized a familiar face. It was Na Silva’s Husband, and he was doing a Ritual Dance. He flashed me a smile, and  I knew instantly we would be alright.  Then Oscar and Lorena arrived, and received me with a big hug. They celebrated my presence, which immediately defused the tension and put the crowd of protesters at ease about my presence. Some people still looked a bit puzzled by my presence, and looked at Oscar and Lorena as though questioning them for allowing me to remain. Eventually Lorena took to the stage spoke over the microphone what I could only assume was something like:  ”These guys here are cool, they have come to help us!” The Guarani they spoke was different from what I was familiar with. It was a much purer and perhaps older dialect that was not used by everyday Paraguayans.

 

protest

Then the people started to move. Hundreds started moving towards the street. More and more people came. They told me get on the stage. I felt hesitant, but did anyway. Then I understood, they wanted me to film them to show their numbers to demonstrate that they are here to protest, that is an entire community that is affected by the embezzlement of money. Specially their kids, whom have been months without school lunches, even though the government claims in their budget that they are spending money on the food. Then it becomes very silent, and  one of the leaders started to talk and tell us about not feeling respected because they are Indians, and how the government just tramples on their rights without consequences. How they want the funds recuperated. The crowded shouted their approval of their message. They were as one unit. This people knew that the local government stole money  that corresponded to them to fight the deadly dengue, and know they were being used as scapegoats. These people simply are fed up.

 

basta de corrupcion paraguay

 

We recorded the speech and crowds, and one of the leaders asked if we had enough footage and we could finish, because its was ice cold and there were so many women and children under the weather.  I said of course, and one of the leaders said something to equivalent as “AT EASE!” The crowd then dispersed. I got down from stage and asked if I could do mini interviews for our documentary, they  agreed and so we continued with our filming. As we started to do individual interviews, the cops noticed how much commotion we were making,  and decided to show their presence so they started to drive around the block over and over with their lights on. One of the leaders told me in private that they have been threatened, and had some of their property stolen or destroyed,  but the cops failed to give importance, or even to file a report.  He said “the cops have been bought already, they are here to protect the buildings not the people”  The sense of unease came back when the riot police arrived with  shields, but it was a way for the police to mark their presence.

One of the leaders said “While we were outside,  they started the fire and burned our home, and that is a big deal for us, losing that house is akin to losing our grandparents, our parents,... I feel so much sorrow to see that our cultures is not being respected.” The incident of the embezzlement of money, the burning of the sacred hut, and the cold weather has made our contacts a bit weary to talk about the ancient rock art, since there is so much going on right now, but we persevere to continue our documentary.We left the protest with the footage we wanted, and we started to think about the social issues at play. The families camping on below freezing temperature under tarps, the resentment of a people who get their voice distorted by the media, the money that was supposed to go to help them.  When we set out to do this documentary, we knew the plight of the Pai Tavytera indians was of dire poverty and being forsaken by the local authorities, but this protest has show us that things are not getting better. The Pai tavytera had left the reservations under the elements in order to protest, and they stay there under the cold dew that falls at night. Like the rock art left and forgotten in their sacred hills.

 

pai tavytera protest paraguay