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To have identity documents is essential for voting.

Political participation created locally

Political participation in Paraguay among indigenous peoples has been low due to discrimination and exclusion. “Many of those we work with had never had identity documents, which made active participation impossible,” says Ricardo Morinigo at Diakonia’s partner organization TierraViva, which managed over the course of just a few months to register more than 20,000 people who took part in this year’s elections.

At previous local elections in Paraguay, election participation was low and many votes were bought with food, water or other items. In addition to that, cheating was also discovered that aimed to prevent a representative of one of the country’s indigenous peoples from winning. Diakonia’s partner organization TierraViva then decided it was time to focus its work on active, conscious participation ahead of the presidential elections in 2018.

Participation among indigenous people is low, and even lower among indigenous women, which is why they decided to focus on increasing participation, taking a gender perspective.

“We decided to make a detailed study of Paraguay elections over the past 20 years and see what form participation has taken. We soon observed that participation has largely been restricted to voting, that many votes were bought and that many people lacked the documents to be able to participate,” says Ricardo.

Many lack identity documents

A first step was therefore to help people to register themselves. Many didn’t even have a birth certificate and have never had access to basic political rights.

“The authorities have not made it easy for people to acquire identity documents. Offices are often far from the villages and the processes for acquiring documents are poorly explained, with information often not being available in indigenous languages,” says Ricardo.

TierraViva accompanied and supported people in the registration process.

“Young people from the various villages who speak the local languages took part in the work, and together we managed to register almost 20,000 people. The oldest was 103 and the youngest 2 weeks. Having identity documents is not only important in terms of political participation, but also for a sense of belonging and access to other rights such as education and healthcare,” he says.

But Ricardo also says that TierraViva cannot take the credit.

“It’s important to mention that this is not work that we did alone – everything was done with the help of local indigenous leaders and young people who assisted with translation. Political participation cannot be created through external solutions – it has to be based on what people themselves want,” he says.

Polling stations need to be accessible

Since the study showed that participation is often limited to voting, the second stage of the project consisted of education and communication.

“We held a series of workshops in how the political system works and which rights it encompasses,” says Ricardo.

Another problem was that the polling booths are located so far away from the villages. Many have no opportunity to vote, as they have no access to transport.

“We managed to get the election authorities to open a polling station in one of the villages. Participation increased enormously there,” he says.

Tierra Viva’s vision is now to continue working with the people who have been involved in the project in order to further strengthen participation ahead of the local elections in 2020.

“We hope that more people will get involved in politics to defend their rights. We’ve had many requests from those who have taken part, because they want to learn even more,” concludes Ricardo.