Interview with Gerónimo Ayala, leader of the first indigenous political party of Paraguay
By: Roberto Irrazábal / Source: Nodal / The Dawn News / November 1, 2017
With a humble voice, but as firm as a natural leader, the candidate for senator of the first Plurinational Indigenous Political Movement of Paraguay, explains the necessity of including indigenous people in the Paraguayan society and in the world, as well as the necessity to protect their culture, where their beliefs, languages and links with the nature survive.
-How was dream of creating an indigenous political movement born?
-This started on 2014 with the idea that indigenous people should have their own voice. So we started talking with the communities of the Eastern Region and with the communities of Chaco, where the leaders said that they had been dreaming about it for a long time. The consultation stage lasted 2 years. After that we founded the movement and then we entered the recognition stage for which we needed 12.000 signatures at a national level for the Superior Court of Electoral Justice.
-How was the process to gather signatures?
-We, as a team, had the objective of reaching 15.000 signatures, and we got to 18.000, but around 2.000 people didn’t appear at the voter register and 3.000 had problems with the signatures. We used Whatsapp to send the PDF for signing to the people that is residing abroad, like Argentina, USA, Spain, and then they sent by mail the file with the signatures. We also used this system in Paraguay, especially with the comrades of Chaco, who couldn’t print the document so they copied it manually and signed.
-Were there any inconveniences regarding those who couldn’t write or weren’t registered?
– It was a real challenge, even more in the communities where people couldn’t sign, in these cases those that had a document and were registered would use their digital fingerprint, as the law states. In almost four months we reached the total amount of signatures, with groups of young indigenous people that traveled through Encarnación, Coronel Bogado, Jesús and Trinidad, and another group that toured through Ciudad del Este and Asunción, where entire families signed; it was a great experience.
– How do you receive this recognition as a political group?
– For us, recognition is already a really important advancement in relation to the indigenous policies in Paraguay. Actually, indigenous people have participated in several occasions, but in other movements and parties alien to them. In the 90’s, the indigenous leaders had the idea of participating in the elections, but for different reasons, they couldn’t achieve recognition. This is why the current achievement is so important, since it is the first to have the recognition of the Electoral Justice.
– Tell me about your life.
– I am from the Mbya Guaraní people, my community is called Pindó, and it is located in the San Cosme district, in Itapúa. We arrived there in 1988, when I was 8 years old, due to the rising of the Yacyreta dam. My grandparents used to live in the yasyretá island. I did the second grade in Pindó, then I had to get out to keep studying because we only had to 6th grade in there, my destination was Coronel Bogado, the nearest city. For the fourth course I went to Encarnacion, entered the National Technical School and earned my bachelor degree as Main Contractor in civil constructions. After that, I did the admission course and entered the Architecture Faculty in the Catholic University of Itapúa, and in 2011 I graduated as an architect, and last year I finished a postgraduate degree in university level teaching.
– What do you remember the most of your childhood?
– The first time, when we left, it was basically a big jungle, there was a lot of forest. At the beginning there was no school, so we had to go with my brother to another community called Ñuaha, located 4 kilometers from the community; we walked barefoot roundtrip. Then the first school was constructed at the Pindó community. The Binational Yacyretá Entity (EBY) gave scholarships to youth, so I benefitted from it until the second year of Architecture when I was given a scholarship by the Catholic University.
– You would say becoming an architect was your dream?
– My first dream was becoming a professional football (soccer) player, but it wasn’t possible, so I followed another dream: studying architecture; and then I focused my thesis in a project of habitational improvement for the indigenous communities of Itapúa, which I presented to several authorities, who didn’t respond. But it is a project that takes into account the reality of the communities, with challenges to be self sustainable, considering food sovereignty.
– How do you see the situation of isolation of many communities?
– While creating the movement, we arrived to communities that buses couldn’t get to, it is a sad reality. Something similar happens with the languages; here only Guaraní is considered official but there are 19 peoples and 19 languages… and people are unaware of this situation. Those who are of the Guaraní family talk different between groups, and then we have the Spanish-Guaraní, the Yopará.
– What are the main threats that the native cultures are suffering?
– To keep the culture alive, the fundamental pillars are the grandparents and parents of each culture. Here in Paraguay, the group with the most problems is the Manjui, of Chaco, who have less than 1.000 people in their community, and they are currently trying to pass their oral language to a written one.
– And the problems regarding territory?
– Here in Paraguay, we have many communities that have no land titles, and that is a factor which puts natives in extreme poverty, since it is something basic to rely on nowadays. Territory is fundamental to maintain the culture and the relationship with Mother Earth, a fundamental factor for the development and we see this reality as something important to fight in the Congress with bills.
– An important theme is the unfulfillment on what the Constitution establishes regarding native people
– The Constitution establishes a lot of things, for example that eviction can’t be applied to the communities; however, in reality we see another practice, and so is the importance of this movement in order to strengthen the juridical protection of the communities with concrete measures that protect them. We know that more of the 70% of native people are living in extreme poverty, and the institutions don’t have the capacity to solve this problem, so it is of critical importance that indigenous leaders take part in the initiatives.
– What are the expectations for being part of the Senate?
– The expectative is huge, communities have always raised projects to the different governments, but since they did not have representation their demands got nowhere… We, the native populations, emphasize the importance of inclusion for the construction of an intercultural democracy. If we want a better country it is up to us and the political decisions are the ones that define the destiny of our country.
Profile of Gerónimo Ayala
Born in the indigenous community Mbyá Guaraní Pindó, which was affected by the rising of the EBY dam in the Itapúa Department, Gerónimo Ayala is a professional architect, leader of the Plurinational Indigenous Political Movement of Paraguay, the first indigenous party to be recognized in the country, and candidate to senator of the 19 native peoples.