This is Simon Romero, reporting from Chaco in Paraguay.
Jose Louis Casacsia is an environmental prosecutor and he’s on an impossible mission to save this forest. Chaco is one the most hostile places on earth, stifling temperatures, jaguars, a vast thorn forest repelled even the conquistadors. But now human enterprise is finally winning out against Chaco.
Ten percent of Chaco has been deforested in the last five years. Experts worry that the entire forest about the size of Poland could be erased in thirty years. Foreigners are buying and clearing huge tracks of land to build cattle farms. As a result Chaco’s indigenous population is left with little. The prosecutor and his team are following tips from neighboring Taiwanese land owner. Two planes, a three hour flight followed by a six hour drive. When they find clear roads with bulldozer marks, they know they’re getting close.
The officials enter the ranch and find a host of crimes, no permits, unlicensed equipment, unlicensed arms and illegally hunted wild life. This raid is a rare victory. Paraguay has only three prosecutors enforcing the entire country’s loose environmental laws. Those convicted usually draw only a small fine and jail time is unlikely.
Brazilian ranchers are prospering the most. So are Mennonites, German speaking evangelical Christians who moved here in the 1920’s.
Friesen: In the last 15 years the land prices have gone up, up to 200 and 300 percent and mostly for cattle breeding. And that would not be the case if the meat prices wouldn’t go up so much.
New wealth is modernizing frontier towns. Filadelfia and nearby towns now have gas stations and car dealerships, even Brazilian banks and American beer. Along roads cut out of forest, timber trucks pass as often as currency. And it’s not just the environment that’s losing out. The land rush is disrupting the Chaco’s indigenous people like the Ayoreo.
In 2004 deforestation pushed Esoy and other Ayoreo out of the forest in contact with the outside world. He once shot arrows at the bulldozer he saw. He now wears a Brazilian soccer jersey.
Esoy: In the forest we always found armadillos, turtles, mountain hogs, and ant eaters. When we lived in the forest it was very quiet and we lived very well. But with nowhere to hunt and only miserable wages as ranch hands he and many in his tribe live in misery, stuck between two worlds.
Esoy worries about the members of his tribe still roaming the Chaco. They are South Americas last un-contacted tribe outside of the Amazon. But as the land rush continues largely unchecked, they too may be forced out of their forest.