Wednesday, May 25

German-speaking Covid deniers seek to build paradise in Paraguay | Paraguay


A 4,000-acre (1,600-hectare) gated community, dubbed El Paraíso Verde, is being excavated from the fertile red earth of Caazapá, one of Paraguay’s poorest regions.

The community’s population, made up primarily of German, Austrian and Swiss immigrants, will eventually grow from 150 to 3,000, according to the owners.

The projects website advertises it as “by far the largest urbanization and settlement project in South America,” describing the neighborhood as a haven from the “socialist tendencies of current economic and political situations around the world,” as well as “5G, chemtrails , fluoridated water, compulsory vaccinations and health mandates”.

Immigration to the neighborhood has intensified since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with residents interviewed on his YouTube channel attributing his move to skepticism about the virus and vaccines.

Caazapá, a rural region dominated by cattle ranching in the heart of Paraguay’s lush east, saw a jump from four new German residents in 2019 to 101 in 2021, according to official figures. “Anti-vaccine” immigrants have also been denounced settling in other parts of Paraguay.

A German citizen who lives nearby and does business with Paraíso Verde cited debunked conspiracy theories about coronavirus vaccines to explain the spike. They stated that Paraguay’s accommodating immigration laws have proven attractive to Germans who want to “escape the matrix” and flee the “deep state and one world order.”

Entrance to the regional hospital of Caazapá.
Entrance to the Caazapá regional hospital, which has no ICU beds and only one ambulance. The pandemic has been devastating for the region. Photography: William Costa

“A lot of older people come. They understand that many people are dying in residences [after vaccination]”, said the German, who asked not to be identified. “And the others, in their 40s, are trying to bring their children here to escape.”

But the emergence of an island colony of Europeans has been viewed with concern by some in the nearby regional capital, also called Caazapá.

“Why are they here? We don’t know, but we want to find out,” said Rodney Mereles, a former city councilman.

On its YouTube channel, Paraíso Verde shares videos describing the pandemic that has killed an estimated 5.5 million people such as “non-existent”, promoting false and dangerous Covid “miracle cures”, and advertising Paraguay as a country without pandemic restrictions, despite clear government health protocols.

Even as Paraguay recorded the world’s highest per capita Covid mortality rate in June 2021, the colony shared big party videos in violation of the restrictions.

In Germany, sectors of society radicalized by the 2015 refugee crisis have proven to be fertile ground for disinformation and conspiracy theories about the pandemic. The far-right Alternative für Deutschland party has sought to revive its dwindling electoral fortunes by criticizing lockdown measures, mask mandates and vaccinations.

And a small minority of those skeptics have decided to go abroad, with Bulgaria reported as another popular destination.

The presence in Caazapá of a large group of Covid skeptics worries local health authorities. Dr. Nadia Riveros, head of public health for Caazapá, said the pandemic had been devastating for the region, which has no ICU beds and only one fully equipped ambulance.

“We don’t want to go through that again. I believe that foreigners, wherever they are from, should have to be vaccinated before entering the country,” he said.

And as Paraguay grapples with a rapidly escalating third wave of Covid as it struggles to improve on South America’s second-lowest vaccination rate, the Health Ministry announced this month that non-resident foreigners entering the country must now present certificates of vaccination.

At least six German citizens without vaccination certificates have been denied entry since the new regulations came into force.

Paraguay has a long and sometimes troubled history of introverted immigrant colonies fueled by ideological and religious fervor. The settlement projects of the Mennonites, the Australian Socialists and the unification church among others have left traces in the country.

European immigrants in the center of the town of Caazapá.
European immigrants in the center of the town of Caazapá. Photography: William Costa

The most notorious settlement in Paraguay was Nueva Germania, the proto-fascist colony established in 1886 by Elizabeth Nietzsche – the philosopher’s sister – and her husband Bernhard Förster. Förster died, probably by suicide, when New Germania collapsed under the weight of financial problems, internal conflicts, and the colonists’ lack of agricultural knowledge.

While Nietzsche and Förster envisioned an Aryan colony untouched by Jewish influence, the founder and leader of El Paraíso Verde, Erwin Annau, has spoken of preserve the Germanic peoples from the presence of Islam and, on a website that recently went offline, questioned the Blame assigned to Germany for World War II.

in a speech 2017 Given before members of the Paraguayan government, Annau said: “Islam is not part of Germany. We are enlightened Christians and we care about our daughters. We see the Koran as [containing] an ideology of political domination, which is not compatible with democratic and Christian values”.

Paraguay itself has a small but well-established Muslim community in several major cities. Abdun Nur Baten, a missionary with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Paraguay, highlighted the apparent contradiction in Annau’s comments.

“They say that Muslim immigrants do not integrate, that they do not adopt German culture and German norms, that they do not assimilate. So it’s very hypocritical to go to another land and do exactly what you accuse Muslims of doing: it’s beyond funny how hypocritical it is,” Nur Baten said. He said that his community would appreciate a peaceful dialogue with Paraíso Verde.

But despite the concerns of the local community, Paraíso Verde has the backing of a growing political and economic power.

The group has met frequently with local representatives and national officials, and claims to have held meetings with Paraguayan health authorities to lobby against stricter Covid regulations.

The entrance to El Paraíso Verde, which is also the base of the Reljuv company, a major local employer.
The entrance to El Paraíso Verde, which is also the base of the Reljuv community enterprise, a major local employer. Photography: William Costa

Gladys Rojas, former president of the Caazapá council, assured that Paraíso Verde was protected by ties to the political faction of former Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes. Cartes is a controversial businessman who has repeatedly questioned allegations that he is linked to cigarette smuggling, but She is considered the richest and most powerful person in Paraguay.

Two members of the Cartes family have been members of the board of directors of Reljuv, a company owned by Paraíso Verde, and in the recent municipal elections, the president of the company, Juan Buker, was very involved in the electoral campaigns for candidates endorsed by Cartes.

“They have politicians and money on their side,” Rojas said, adding that many in Caazapá, the region with the highest rate of extreme poverty in Paraguay, were reluctant to ask questions as the neighborhood has become the largest employer. of the area.

Rojas currently faces trespassing charges over protests to protect Susu Island, a nature reserve that experienced heavy environmental damage during the construction works of Paraíso Verde. The settlement later paid a fine for the damages.

On a recent afternoon, The Guardian He traveled the dirt road from the town of Caazapá to Paraíso Verde. Near the long perimeter fence, groups of residents strolled along the path in the slowly softening sun.

At the entrance gate, a Reljuv employee emerged, flanked by guards armed with long guns.

After refusing the possibility of entry or an interview, the employee aggressively demanded to examine the identity documents of everyone present, even as the reporter tried to leave.

“You know what to do,” the clerk repeated, confused. Paraíso Verde did not respond to repeated requests for comment.


www.theguardian.com

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