Paraguay Senate seeks accountability from government following Earthsight illegal deforestation exposé

14.12.2021

  • Senators want answers from environment authorities over illegal clearances of indigenous lands that Earthsight linked to leather used by global car brands.
  • They are also trying to establish whether irregular deforestation permits may have been granted to the three ranches exposed by our investigation.

Senator Miguel Rodríguez Romero is leading calls for the Paraguayan government to provide information they hold relating to Earthsight's findings. Credit: Shutterstock

Last week the Paraguayan Senate formally asked the government to clarify whether any deforestation permits had been issued to three farms previously exposed by Earthsight for carrying out illegal clearances in an indigenous protected area in the Gran Chaco. Such permits would have violated indigenous rights and the government’s own decision to suspend land management plans for the area.

The Senate also wants to know if authorities have taken any actions to investigate and address the illegalities uncovered by Earthsight.

The senators’ requests were motivated by the publication of Earthsight’s Grand Theft Chaco II in October, a follow-up report to our September 2020 exposé on how protected land belonging to the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people – an area known as PNCAT – had been illegally cleared for cattle ranching.

Earthsight also exposed the links between these illegal clearances – affecting some of the last uncontacted groups in the Americas outside the Amazon – and leather used by car giants BMW and Jaguar Land Rover. Both firms have denied wrongdoing.

According to our investigations, between 2018 and 2019 two ranches within PNCAT – Caucasian SA, and a farm belonging to an associate of Cooperativa Chortitzer – illegally cleared over 2700 and 500 hectares respectively. A third farm, Yaguareté Porã, was shown to have a long history of illegal land dealings and pasture development within PNCAT.

More than a year after these revelations were made, Paraguayan authorities had not investigated the illegalities exposed or implemented measures to protect Totobiegosode lands. Meanwhile, leather from implicated firms in Paraguay has continued to flow to European tanneries serving the automotive industry.

Paraguay’s Chaco, a biome rich in biodiversity and carbon stocks, has suffered some of the world’s highest deforestation rates in recent years, mostly as a result of agribusiness expansion to supply growing global demand for beef, leather, and soy.

Earthsight's Grand Theft Chaco II detailed how suspect Paraguayan leather continues to enter Europe. Credit: RVLT

Earthsight’s investigations laid bare the Paraguayan state’s failures and detailed how corruption and inaction allowed farms to receive irregular deforestation permits from the environment ministry.

Now the country’s Senate is demanding answers from the relevant authorities. It is asking the environment ministry and Infona, Paraguay’s forest agency, to explain whether environmental licenses and land use plans – which would have ‘authorised’ ranching and forest clearances at PNCAT – were issued to Caucasian, Yaguareté Porã or Chortitzer between 2018 and 2021.

Given a 2018 government decision to suspend all land use plans for properties within PNCAT and the territory's status as an indigenous protected area, any permits granted would be of questionable validity, and possibly downright illegal. On the other hand, the absence of permits would once again confirm that the clearances were unauthorised and should have been investigated. Either way, both Infona and the ministry have some explaining to do regarding their unwillingness to address the revelations.

Earthsight had submitted similar questions to Infona ahead of publication of Grand Theft Chaco II but obtained no response.

The requests were the initiative of Senator Miguel Rodríguez Romero, currently the president of the Senate’s indigenous peoples commission. Senator Rodriguez Romero told Earthsight he doesn’t expect much constructive engagement from the authorities, which have 15 business days to answer the questions.

“Our expectation of what the environment ministry or Infona will give us is low, but that is no reason for us to stop pressuring them,” he said. With this initiative, the senator hopes to increase opportunities for affected communities to seek legal action should authorities fail to respond.

The senator criticised what he sees as a government failure to protect indigenous rights and the environment as mandated by Paraguay's constitution. According to figures provided to Earthsight by the senator, INDI – the country’s indigenous agency – only receives 0.07 per cent of the national budget, while the environment ministry has 84 rangers to monitor 2.5 million hectares of forests.

“You don’t see a convergence between what the constitution says and the political will of the Executive on what concerns indigenous peoples,” he told Earthsight.

Paraguay’s abysmal track record in enforcing environmental and indigenous protections lays bare the need for European, US and other major consumer markets to adopt ambitious laws to halt imports of commodities linked to unsustainable deforestation and human rights violations abroad. Crucially, such laws must give indigenous and other local communities access to legal action in consumer countries in cases of abuses and rights violations committed by supply chain actors.

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