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Sun Dec 16, 2012, 07:35 AM

Paraguayan Mennonites hit back at criticism of environmental record

Paraguayan Mennonites hit back at criticism of environmental record

How did this Christian sect go from Biblical exhortations for stewardship of the Earth to outright exploitation and dominion?

Posted by
John Vidal
Friday 22 October 2010 09.31 EDT guardian.co.uk

What is it with Mennonites? Two weeks ago I wrote a piece from Paraguay on how the vast dry forest known as the Gran Chaco was being felled at an alarming rate mainly by people from this Christian fundamentalist sect.

Having fled from persecution in eastern Europe 80 years ago, they went to one of the most inhospitable places on earth and by the sweat of their brow – and a lot of help from the indigenous peoples on whom they depended – they have survived in the wilderness. But now, it seems they have moved from Biblical exhortations for stewardship of the Earth to outright exploitation and dominion. They have bought up nearly 2m hectares, worth, these days, in the region of $600m (£382m), made themselves fabulously wealthy from a $100m-a-year meat and dairy business, and are now in danger of totally destroying an unique ecosystem, indigenous peoples and all.

Now, not all Mennonites are the same, indeed I know of some in Canada who appear to be fully aware of the environment and "creation care". But the Paraguayan group behind this appear be insular, over-defensive and obsessed with physical expansion and capitalism. Moreover, they seem ignorant of their impact on the environment and unable to accept criticism.

Since the article was published, many other people have commented on the Mennonites' attitude to nature and their treatment of indigenous and other marginalised people.

Here's a comment from a conservationist in Belize:

Before Mennonites came to Belize, the country imported almost all its food from Guatemala and Mexico. Now Mennonites supply the entire country with chicken, eggs, milk, and corn. Fast-growing communities of Belizean Mennonites are stripping thousands of acres of forest at a rate heretofore unknown in this laid-back nation, planting chemical-intensive crops on every arable acre they can buy. The Mennonites have by far the highest birth rate in Belize, and their culture drives them to constantly open up new settlements. Though their American counterparts may observe a quaint and simplistic lifestyle, in Belize, Mennonites are a major destructive force.


You may recall this story, formerly posted in LBN:

26 August 2011 Last updated at 16:44 ET
Bolivian Mennonites jailed for serial rapes

A court in Bolivia has sentenced seven members of a reclusive conservative Christian group to 25 years in prison for raping more than 100 women. The men, members of a Mennonite group, secretly sedated their victims before the sex attacks.

The victims' lawyer said the 2000-strong Mennonite community where the rapes happened welcomed the sentence.
The group follows a strict moral code and rejects modern inventions such as cars and electricity.

An eighth man was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years for supplying the sedative used to drug the women. The rapes happened in the Mennonite community of Manitoba, 150km (93 miles) north-east of the city of Santa Cruz.
Shocking crimes

The court heard that the men sprayed a substance derived from the belladonna plant normally used to anaesthetise cows through bedroom windows at night, sedating entire families. They then raped the women and girls. The youngest victim was nine years old.

There are some 30-40,000 Mennonites in Paraguay and Bolivia.


In Paraguay a Familiar Story is Playing Out
Saturday, 17 September 2011 08:18 By Sean OLeary, Council on Hemispheric Affairs | Report

In Paraguay, the Ayoreo people are fighting for their very survival. These indigenous people are struggling to save their ancestral home in the Chaco region from cattle companies, farmers and religious sects who are moving into the region and clearing the land. New arrivals do this to make the land suitable for farming and grazing cattle. The combination of burning and then bulldozing the land leaves the region barren.


The preservation of forested areas is not only vital to sustaining the region’s biodiversity; the survival of the Ayoreo people also depends upon it. It is not simply a matter of the Ayoreo people moving somewhere else. The territory called Eami in their language, is tied to their history and very identity and thus valued as sacred. As one of the members of the Ayoreo point out, “Our history is etched in every stream, in every waterhole, on the trees…our territory expresses itself through our history because the Ayoreo people and our territory are a single being.”

While the Ayoreo people were legally awarded some disputed land by the Paraguayan government, two Brazilian beef corporations, BBC S.A and River Plate S.A are refusing to hand over the land until they are sufficiently compensated. These companies are seeking permission to clear a large area of land bordering on the Ayoreo’s. This will mean fencing the Ayoreos in to a smaller area, marginalizing them even further. Although many Paraguayan officials support expanding the cattle and farming industries throughout the Chaco as a means to boost the economy, the long-term damage to the nation from both a human rights and an environmental perspective would be catastrophic. The practice of slash and burn agriculture will only bring short-term benefits at the expense of Paraguay’s ecology and the destruction of the Ayoreo people.

The Ayoreo-Totobeigosode, a sub community of the Ayoreo, is one of the last uncontacted groups in the world, Brazilian beef corporations, wealthy farmers, and Mennonite communities seeking remote areas in which to live a life based on a literal translation of the bible are encroaching on the Ayoreo lands. In the 1950s, the Ayoreo people lived in an area 2,800,000 hectares; now they claim only 550,00 hectares – a loss of nearly 80 percent. According to the BBC, over 1 million hectares have disappeared since 2007. Moreover, the new arrivals into the Chaco region have brought diseases, such as measles that were previously unknown to the Ayoreo people.


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