How is it that your barbecue contributes to the deforestation of the land of peoples in voluntary isolation and how to avoid it

How is it that your barbecue contributes to the deforestation of the land of peoples in voluntary isolation and how to avoid it

Members of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people who have abandoned their life in the forest during the last decade. They now live in a small village called Chaidí, adapting to the enveloping society and struggling to preserve the lands inhabited by their relatives still living in voluntary isolation.

(Santi Carneri)

The press, and even more so the urban and industrialised societies, rarely pay attention to the problems that indigenous people are facing all around the world. We barely know about their existence and we do not acknowledge how we, as individuals or as a society, are linked to the threats posed to their way of life. Deforestation, mineral extraction and drug trafficking are just a few of those threats.

The raw materials necessary for industrial production in Europe, Canada or the United States (just to name regions with high standards in human rights) that come from South America in their vast majority come from countries that, sometimes because of corruption and in other instances by virtue of the law, allow wrongs that would never be accepted on the land of those importers on the grounds of causing harm to the environment and to their citizens.

We (unconsciously, for lack of time or just because it is far from us or simply because we do not care) ignore irregular activities from many European and US companies around the world. And yet surprisingly, in some cases, members of our Western society are outraged when indigenous organisations and South American governments protest colonialism.

One example is Spanish colonialism, in speeches that overshadow Spain’s national holiday on 12 October - the date on which the establishment of Spain as a unified kingdom and Christopher Columbus’s arrival to America are remembered and embraced under the colonial myth that he "discovered it."

Young men in breechcloth

However, something unheard of occurred not long ago; the Brazilian government released a video that went viral on the Internet, showing the allegedly first contact between the Tsapanawas indigenous group from the Amazon and some anthropologists. The BBC video was filmed on 1 August 2014 and it has almost two million views. When have so many people been interested in the happenings of one of the most unknown peoples on Earth?

Young men naked, except for their breechcloth, with their faces painted with black stripes, bearing bows and arrows came out the jungle on the shore of a river. They gesticulated and grabbed the objects at reach while walking around the camp of the workers from the Brazilian National Foundation for Indigenous People (FUNAI), who did not understand their words. The anthropologists kept trying to retain weapons, clothing and any other item extremely attractive for the visitors.

The myth of the "discovery of America" translated into a millennial language… With no need to travel, or read anything, in less than two minutes you can almost have the feeling of being a "direct witness" of the "encounter between two worlds".

Thanks to this scene, for a few seconds, the attention of millions of people focused on this hidden corner in the Brazilian and Peruvian border, in the heart of Amazon. And on the Tsapanawas. Who are they? Where do they come from? What language do they speak? Probably the observers watching the video on their computers were wondering about the same questions the Amazonians were asking when they saw the Brazilian officers.

But the event, far from being a romantic "encounter between two worlds", revealed a terrible reality. About 35 Tsapanawas men, women and children abandoned their way of life to escape from slaughter. They had been shot. Several members of their families had been murdered, as the NGO Survival reported.

In September 2017, FUNAI alerted the world of a new slaughter against an indigenous people in voluntary isolation near the Jandiatuba Amazon River, in western Brazil.

That is why the words "not contacted" are misleading. These peoples live in voluntary isolation, that is to say, they do not want to contact the enveloping industrial society near them, which does not mean that they have had no contacts. According to the experts, almost every community has had some kind of contact, unfortunately, most of the times, violent.

The Amazon Basin is the shelter for most indigenous groups that do not want to have contact with the outside world. However, this is not the only shelter in the Americas or in the world.

The story of the charcoal and the meat of your barbecue

That brings us back to the story of why making barbecues in Europe or the United States can contribute to the disappearance of forests which are vital for other people’s lives.

Between Bolivia and Paraguay, further to the south of the popular Amazon there exists, for instance, the only indigenous people in voluntary isolation left in America outside the Amazon Basin.

They are one of the most threatened people on the planet, but there are neither Hollywood films about them nor big-budget documentaries about the fast predation of their millenary forests by Brazilian, Spanish, Paraguayan, U.S., or Canadian timber companies, cattle-ranching businesses or oil firms.

They are the Ayoreo Totobiegosode and they live in Gran Chaco, the second-largest forest in South America, an ecosystem that encompasses parts of Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.

The Ayoreo people from Paraguay are the guardians of the last virgin forests of the area, living in a country where the main national income accounts for deforestation of the land to export wood and charcoal, to breed 14 million cows per year and to seed soybeans in the most unexpected places.

In the American Gran Chaco seven trees are cut down per second. A total of 585,500 trees are logged every day at the very heart of South America, according to environmental NGO Guyra Paraguay reports. Most of cattle production in Paraguay comes from Chaco and so does the largest portion of their charcoal production. Both activities need large areas.

As individuals it is impossible for us to solve this. But, still...

How can we avoid being part of the problem?

First of all, being aware of the importance of the origin of the products we consume every day. Secondly, urging supermarkets to reject products that harm the environment, anywhere it be.

In the case of Paraguay, the largest exporter of charcoal is a company called Bricapar, owned by the family of the present minister of Public Works, Ramón Jiménez Gaona (investigated for breach of trust and criminal association for the alleged no-bid awarding of a large civil work contract to a Spanish company).

Paraguayan charcoal is mainly exported to the European Union; forests the size of 30 football pitches in the Paraguayan Chaco are removed every day to supply Europe with charcoal, according to a recent investigation held by the British NGO Earthsight.

According to Earthsight, Bricapar sells white quebracho charcoal mainly to supermarkets such as Aldi, Lidl and Carrefour in Spain, Germany and France. After the NGO’s report in August 2017, Carrefour announced it would stop selling Bricapar charcoal. This is just one out of many examples of companies that link your barbecue to South American forests.

The people in voluntary isolation “are not lost peoples, they are peoples who keep away from us of their own accord. They are not completely isolated, either. They know of our existence; a knowledge that comes in the form of violence most of the time and therefore, they isolate themselves, and they are entitled to do so,” according to Miguel Lovera, coordinator of the Paraguayan NGO Iniciativa Amotocodie (The purpose of this NGO is to accompany the Ayoreo people in their adaptation and to help preserve the habitat for those who remain isolated).

“We do not want any kind of contact, this is good for us, our habitat continues to exist, we do not want to be part of deforestation, of cattle farming," said Tagüide Picanerai, one of the Paraguayan Ayoreo Totobiegosode leaders who lives in Asunción. "We do not want to be labourers on cattle ranches or live in concentration camps. We want an autonomous, self-sufficient life. We want no missionaries, no NGOs, no other government than ours.”

This article has been translated from Spanish.