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Columbia University

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

Argentina: Regional Integration, Development, and Social Change


Paraguay, a small and often overlooked landlocked country in South America has seen rapid economic growth in recent years. This growth, which can be attributed to the country’s agro-­‐ export model, has been highly unequal, concentrating both land and economic power in the hands of the few. Centered around the production and export of genetically modified crops like soy and corn, the model is one that requires vast amounts of land and has implied rapid deforestation and changes in land use and land cover, especially in Eastern Paraguay. Representing close to two percent of the population, the indigenous people of Paraguay have been highly impacted by this model, particularly vis-­‐à-­‐vis deforestation, land encroachment, and contamination that results from the increasing use of chemical fertilizers. Focusing on the ethnic group Avá Guaraní in the eastern province of Canindeyú, I seek to answer the following question: what are the ways in which Paraguay’s indigenous people perceive and experience threats to their identity given the trajectory of Paraguay’s development model, and how do they respond? From here, I examine how the peculiarities of the Paraguayan state and an exclusionary national identity have complicated the situation of the Avá Guaraní community and I question the possibilities of development with identity in a democracy that is still relatively fragile. Drawing on the existing literature on democratization, globalization, identity politics and sustainable development as well as my own field research carried out in Asunción and Canindeyú, Paraguay, I will show what makes the case of Paraguay’s indigenous people unique in the region and that this situation calls for a shift in paradigm with regards to sustainable development. I will argue that for the Avá Guaraní to continue existing according to their culture, what is needed is not just sustainable development, but one that is truly conscious of equity, social inclusion, power, justice, cultural autonomy, and the environment.


Growth and Development



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