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

A 1,600-hectare enclosed area, called El Paraíso Verde or The Green Paradise, is being cut out of the fertile red soil of Caazapá, one of Paraguay’s poorest regions.

The community’s population – which consists mainly of German, Austrian and Swiss immigrants – will gradually grow from 150 to 3,000, according to the owners.

The project’s website calls it “by far the largest urbanization and settlement project in South America”, describing the colony as a refuge from “socialist trends in current economic and political situations worldwide” – as well as “5G, chemtrails, fluoridated water, mandatory vaccinations and health mandates ”.

Immigration to the colony has increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with residents interviewed on its YouTube channel attributing their movement skepticism to the virus and vaccines.

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

A German citizen who lives nearby and does business with Paraíso Verde cited discredited conspiracy theories about coronavirus vaccines to explain the increase. They claimed that Paraguay’s accommodating immigration laws had proved attractive to Germans who wanted to “escape the matrix” and flee from “the deep state and one world order”.

Entrance to Caazapá Regional Hospital.
Entrance to Caazapá Regional Hospital, which has no ICU beds and only one ambulance. The pandemic has been devastating to the region. Photo: William Costa

“Many older people are coming. They understand that many people die in nursing homes [after vaccination], ”Said the German, who asked not to be mentioned. “And the others, in their 40s, are trying to bring their kids over here to escape.”

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

“Why are they here? We do not know, but we want to find out,” said Rodney Mereles, a former city council member.

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

Even when Paraguay recorded the world’s highest Covid death rate per capita in June 2021, the colony shared videos of large parties in violation of restrictions.

In Germany, sections of society radicalized by the refugee crisis in 2015 have proven to be a breeding ground for disinformation and conspiracy theories about the pandemic. The far-right Alternative für Deutschland party has sought to revive its declining electoral fortunes by intervening in lockdown measures, mask mandates and vaccines.

And a small minority of these 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 the local health authorities. Dr. Nadia Riveros, Caazapá’s head of public health, said the pandemic had been devastating for the region, which has no ICU beds and only one fully equipped ambulance.

“We do not want to go through that again. I think foreigners, no matter where they come from, need to be vaccinated before they enter the country,” she said.

And as Paraguay faces a rapidly escalating third wave of Covid as it struggles to improve the second-lowest vaccination rate in South America, the health ministry announced this month that non-resident aliens entering the country must now present vaccination certificates.

At least six German nationals without a vaccination certificate have been denied entry since the entry into force of this new regulation.

Paraguay has a long and sometimes turbulent history with introverted immigrant colonies driven by ideological and religious zeal. Settlement projects by, among others, Mennonites, Australian Socialists and the Unification Church have all left their mark on the country.

European immigrants in the center of the city of Caazapá.
European immigrants in the center of the city of Caazapá. Photo: William Costa

Paraguay’s most notorious settlement 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, as Nueva Germania sank under the weight of economic problems, internal conflicts, and settlers’ lack of knowledge about agriculture.

While Nietzsche and Förster envisioned an Aryan colony untouched by Jewish influence, El Paraíso Verde’s founder and leader Erwin Annau has spoken out about preserving Germanic peoples from the presence of Islam and – on a website recently taken offline – questioned by the blame attributed to Germany for World War II.

In a speech in 2017, delivered for members of the Paraguayan government, Annau said: “Islam is not part of Germany. We are enlightened Christians and we are worried about our daughters. We see the Qur’an as [containing] an ideology of political dominance that is incompatible with democratic and Christian values. ”

Paraguay itself has a small but well-established Muslim community in several major cities. Abdun Nur Baten, a missionary for 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 or German norms, that they do not assimilate. So it is very hypocritical to go to another country and do exactly what you accuse Muslims of doing: It’s more than funny how hypocritical it is, “said Nur Baten. He said his community would welcome a peaceful dialogue with Paraíso Verde.

But despite concerns in the local community, Paraíso Verde is backed by rising political and economic power.

The group has often met with local and national officials and claims to have held meetings with Paraguayan health authorities to lobby against tighter Covid rules.

The entrance to El Paraíso Verde, which is also the base for the company Reljuv, a large local employer.
The entrance to El Paraíso Verde, which is also the base of the community company Reljuv, a large local employer. Photo: William Costa

Gladys Rojas, a former president of Caazapá City Council, claimed that Paraíso Verde was protected by links to former Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes’ political faction. Cartes is a controversial businessman who has repeatedly challenged allegations that he is involved in cigarette smuggling, but considered Paraguay’s richest and most powerful person.

Two members of the Cartes family have been board members of Reljuv, a company owned by Paraíso Verde, and in recent municipal elections, the company’s president, Juan Buker, was heavily involved in election campaigns for candidates backed by Cartes.

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

Rojas is currently facing infringement allegations of protests to protect Isla Susu, a nature reserve that suffered major environmental damage during construction work at Paraíso Verde. The settlement later paid a fine for the damage.

One recent afternoon, The Guardian wrote traveled along the gravel road from the city of Caazapá to Paraíso Verde. Close to the long fence, groups of residents strolled along the path in the slowly bleeding sun.

At the entrance gate, a Reljuv employee appeared, flanked by guards armed with long cannons.

After rejecting the possibility of entry or an interview, the employee aggressively demanded that all the identity documents of those present be examined, even as the reporter tried to leave.

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

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