Portrait of Bernarda Pesoa

Qom community resistance – another story of environmental defenders at risk

Header photo: Bernarda Pesoa (c) Fundaction Plurales

Today, on March 2, 2021, it is 5 years ago that Berta Caceres was brutally murdered in her home by armed intruders, after years of threats against her life. Unfortunately the violence against environmental activists like Caceres has only increased since that day. On a global scale, every week, four people are killed because they stand up for nature. Many of them are increasingly facing threats, violence and intimidation. This is also the case for Bernarda Pesoa, the leader of Indigenous Women of the Qom community in Paraguay.

Bernarda Pesoa and her organization are fighting to protect their territory from the intervention of a private company (Fundacion Paraguay), which intends to plant eucalyptus monocultures for biomass in the indigenous territory without the approval of the communities. In this video (in Spanish) she explains the issue.

’We reject this cellulose biomass project because we are in the Chaco where the land is arid and water is scarce. We also have our fruit and medicinal plants that we use historically and our cemetery,’ explains Pesoa.

Since 2017, the women’s group has been organizing protests and campaigns with organizations such as Amnesty Paraguay, CLADEM, Fondo de Mujeres del Sur and Colectivo Casa, in order to preserve their territory. Among other activities, they filed complaints with public institutions, sent their complaint to the Senate Indigenous Peoples Commission for mediation, and held meetings with public institutions to present their problem. Despite these efforts, the company intends to continue with the plantation in the indigenous territory without their consent.

To date, neither the environmental prosecutor’s office nor the INDI (national institute for indigenous rights) support the demands of the Qom community, leaving them exposed to the violence generated by private companies, which also have the political support from parliamentarians

Physical attacks and threats

The company’s interventions to gain access to the land has generated violence between indigenous community members. The company has extorted some of this members so they can push their agenda and overcome the resistance. This creates violence and social and cultural conflicts. Some community members opposing to the project have been physically attacked and threatened, especially the community leader Bernarda Pesoa.

‘I was attacked by four men. They cut my hair, stole my purse and left me bruised and with knife injuries,’ Pesoa told me.

Pesoa cannot go out alone, she needs other community members to accompany her when she travels out of the community and back. This makes her everyday life very complicated, since she is feeling at risk constantly.

What we do to improve the safety of environmental deferenders?

At IUCN NL we aim to improve safety and security of environmental defenders and their communities. To structurally improve the protection of environmental defenders, we advocate for the international recognition of the right to defend the environment with authoritative bodies such as the United Nations. Recognition at an international level will contribute to the development of international legal mechanisms to better protect environmental defenders. An important step promises to be the UN Binding Treaty, which should contain obligations to respect environmental defenders and their rights.

Learn more

Mariel Cabero

Expert Environmental Justice