Photo exhibition shows the hardship faced by Paraguay’s Indigenous communities
In November, the long-awaited launch of a series of photos taken by young people in the Indigenous Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa communities took place in central Asunción here in Paraguay. The photos are hung in the Memory Museum [Museo de la Memoria] a space for reflecting on and learning about the disappearances, torture and other human rights violations that were committed between 1954 and 1989 under Paraguay’s military regime.
Over 80 people from the two Enxet communities that Amnesty International has been working with for two years left their makeshift homes along the side of a main highway and travelled to the capital for the launch of the photos, taken as part of the PhotoVoice – Images of What is Ours project .The evening started with the lighting of a candle in memory of the victims of human rights abuses committed in Paraguay’s painful past.
The communities’ leaders spoke of their continuing struggle to recover their ancestral lands, the hardships they face, and the loss of their own culture as a result: the violation of their rights continues for as long as they are unable to return to their ancestral land. Later, a special mention was made for Tomás Galeano, a leader and guiding figure for the Yakye Axa community who died last year before he could witness his community’s return to their land.
The participatory photo project that produced the exhibition, run in partnership between Amnesty International and local NGOs Photovoice and Tierraviva, encouraged the young people in the communities to express themselves, their concerns and their hopes through photos. The body of work produced will allow the communities, and in particular the younger generation, to challenge deeply engrained marginalization and discrimination and voice their demands for themselves. The photos they took depict their day-to-day existence, in inhospitable conditions dependent on irregular provision of food, water and medical supplies from State authorities while they continue to wait for their land claims to be resolved.
I spoke to the community photographers just before the formal presentation of their work, and they told me that they wanted their photos to tell their stories to others in the hope that they would support them in their struggle.
Mario Ayala, from Sawhoyamaxa, told me that he wanted his photos to show the Paraguayan authorities how difficult their lives are.
Nicolas Gomez, from Yakye Axa said he wanted to show people “the things that they don’t see”.
Over 100 people – authorities, activists and journalists – were present at the launch, packed into the Memory Museum and trying to shelter from the sudden downpour outside. There was a celebratory atmosphere, and the families of the photographers laughed with shy pride when they saw their homes, their faces and their stories captured on film. The significance of the location for the exhibition did not escape anyone present. As Paraguay’s Truth and Justice Commission recently concluded, the violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples under the dictatorship included extrajudicial executions, slavery, sexual violence and the sale of children.
To this day, the effects of a regime that traded 19.3 per cent of Paraguayan territory for political and military favours are felt by the country’s Indigenous Peoples claiming their rights to live on their ancestral lands. Claiming their ancestral land, currently in the hands of powerful private owners, for more than 10 years, both the Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa are living the continuing violation of their rights every day. The photos tell the stories of their struggle, and the terrible cost it is having on their communities.
Please visit the online exhibition. Please click on the ‘I will attend’ button to add steps to your rights journey. Then click on the back button/arrow on your browser to go back to the Paraguay suitcase where you can see some of the photos taken by the young people.