The western Bolivian Chaco is home to the Guaraní people – known historically as the Chiriguanos – the largest indigenous group in the Bolivian lowlands, with a population of about 75, 000. The Guaraní originally migrated across the Chaco from east of the Río Paraguay in search of a mythical “Land Without Evil”, occupying the southwestern fringes of the Andes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries just as the Inca empire was expanding into the same region. Despite this, the Guaraní successfully resisted conquest by the Incas, and subsequently proved among the fiercest and most tenacious indigenous opponents of the Spanish. Not until well into the Republican era were they completely subjugated, when the last great Guaraní uprising was brutally crushed in 1892, after which their remaining lands were seized by the Bolivian state and divided into large private ranches defended by army forts. In recent decades, the Guaraní have been struggling to regain control of their ancestral territories using land reform and indigenous rights legislation, and in spite of obstructive bureaucracy have now recovered large areas, where they farm maize, cotton, peanuts and other crops. Despite this, hundreds if not thousands of Guaraní still work on large cattle ranches under conditions of debt servitude that are little different from slavery.

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