Sanctioning the Right to Life: The Impact of Crimean Sanctions on Indigenous Peoples in Latin America

By Sofia Manukyan. You can follow Sofia on Twitter: @SofiaManukyan

The Crimean crisis and land losses of the Ayoreo tribes in Paraguay may come across as completely distinct problems, with respect to both distance and subject matter.  However, the process of globalization has become so dominating that denying the connection between these issues is no longer possible.

After the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in March 2014, countries such as Australia, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, the USA and the EU imposed sanctions on Russia. Specifically, these sanctions targeted a number of businessmen and politicians As the conflict escalated in Eastern Ukraine, further sanctions were imposed on Russia, including sanctions against certain sectors of the economy, such as the financial, trade and energy sectors (for more on sanctions see this BBC article).

The sanctions imposed on Russia have necessitated analysis as to the degree to which Russian’s economy is affected and, interestingly, how much loss foreign companies operating in Russia are expected to bear. The occurrence of mutual loss is just another indication of globalisation at large in our world today.

Russia has responded to the sanctions with sanctions of their own: banning imports of meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables from the EU, the US, Norway, Canada and Australia (more on this).  In response to these measures, the Ministry of Agriculture and food producing companies were ordered by the Russian prime minister to find ways to boost Russian imports in order to avoid an increase in price within the Russian market. While China has “taken responsibility” for the Russian market of fruits and vegetables (more here), the demand for meat is to be satisfied through South America, specifically; Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador (article in Russian).

It is clear that these sanctions will affect everyone involved in this game; negatively impacting those who are sanctioned and positively impacting those who will try to use the opportunity to fill in the gaps (at least in the short term).

However, it appears that those involved in this political game are not the only stakeholders impacted.  For example, indigenous peoples as far away as South America, although not involved in these political machinations, will also be impacted and sadly, not in a positive way.

Here is the story behind it:

Survival International, which is a worldwide organisation helping tribal peoples to protect their lives and lands, has been supporting the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe in northern Paraguay for about twenty years in efforts to reclaim their ancestral land. Currently the greatest threat for these tribes is the Brazilian cattle-ranching firm Yaguarete Pora, which owns around 78,000 hectare in Paraguay, near Ayoreo locations. Yaguarete Pora has already cleared a large area of forest in the region.

Those of the Ayoreo who were contacted by Survival International told how they were continually forced to flee from bulldozers destroying their homes. Unfortunately, the laws protecting the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands are not effective consequent to a lack of political will on the part of the Paraguayan government.

The indigenous peoples entirely depend on these lands for their survival and so the consequences of sanctions in Russia implicate the right to life of the Ayoreo people (more on Survival International’s page on Ayoreo).

The Ayoreo people’s survival and fundamental human rights are challenged by a number of different actors. It appears that Brazil and Paraguay have put their economic interests above indigenous rights. Russia’s increased economic interest in the beef supply from these countries – and the consequent economic incentive – makes the fate of the indigenous people predictably dismal.  However, the list of actors implicated in the abovementioned human rights violations is not just limited to the Brazilian, Paraguayan or Russian governments. The Brazilian cattle-ranching company, the Russian importers, as well as countries involved in sanctioning Russia as a result of the Crimean conflict, play no lesser role in contributing to the violation of indigenous rights.

Thus, the question is: when we will cease making decisions for short term gains and when will our economic/political calculations become advanced enough to take into account the direct and indirect impacts of our decisions?  After all globalization is no longer something looming on the horizon: it is here now, and we must deal with its consequences.

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the author(s) alone.

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