Spanish construction giant targeted over uncontacted Indians' land grab

June 24, 2015

Protestors demanded ‘Save the Ayoreo’ at the annual shareholder meeting of Spanish company Grupo San José. © Victoria Herranz/Survival

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Protestors demanded “Save the Ayoreo” at the annual shareholder meeting of Spanish construction giant Grupo San José in Madrid today. The company has been implicated in the destruction of the uncontacted tribe’s last forest refuge.

Grupo San José’s subsidiary Carlos Casado SA, a South American agricultural firm, was caught illegally bulldozing and constructing roads and reservoirs on the ancestral land of uncontacted Ayoreo Indians in the Chaco forest in Paraguay. The company has also allegedly attempted to forge Ayoreo signatures for the construction of an access road through the tribe’s territory.

Most Ayoreo have been forced out of the Chaco – which has the world’s highest deforestation rate – but some of their relatives remain hiding in an ever-shrinking island of forest. They are one of the most vulnerable societies on the planet, who could be wiped out by violence from outsiders and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

Ayoreo man Porai Picanerai said, “I ask Grupo San José to give us back our land, because if they chop down our forest, our brothers who remain there will be scared.”

Members of the Paraguayan Ayoreo-Totobiegosode group on the day they were contacted for the first time, in 2004. © GAT 2004

Another Ayoreo said, “I am very worried about this destruction because we don’t know where exactly the people still in the forest are living. This is why we don’t want the outsiders to destroy more of the forest with their bulldozers.”

The Ayoreo have been claiming legal title to a fraction of their ancestral land for over 20 years, but much of it is owned by powerful ranching companies. Like many recently contacted Indians, the contacted Ayoreo are succumbing to respiratory diseases contracted from outsiders that often go undetected in medical tests.

Protestors handed leaflets to shareholders attending Grupo San José's annual general meeting in Madrid. © Victoria Herranz/Survival

Survival International is calling on Grupo San José’s shareholders, such as Santander, to withdraw from the company over its involvement in the destruction of the Ayoreo’s last forest refuge.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “Forced contact has brought disease, death and destruction to tribes across the Americas, and the Ayoreo are a textbook example of the danger involved. Today, contacted Ayoreo are dying from diseases to which they have no immunity, and while their forest keeps being felled their uncontacted relatives face the same sorry fate. If Grupo San José cared one bit about the lives of Indians it would return the land to its rightful owners.”