"Picture, 50 cents," said the middle-aged Indian woman as she began stripping off her blouse. A younger woman, naked to the waist, had a large snake dangling from her neck and was already haggling with a group of Brazilian tourists.
"They've got to eat," shrugged the guide.
By Paraguayan standards, these Maca Indian women do not do too badly. While their island reservation produces little food, there are always the tourists from Asuncion who motor across the Paraguay River to see the naked Indians - and pay to take their pictures.
In a country where much of the population does not consider killing Indians a crime, posing for tourist photos is the least of many degradations.
Although often cited in tourist brochures as an example of cultural fusion between Indians and Spanish settlers, Paraguay better typifies the on-going destruction of South America's aborigines.
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Only 100,000 Indians have survived since pre-Columbian times, and their numbers are rapidly diminishing.
The number of Guarani Indians has dropped from 150,000 to 30,000. The Guayakis, Paraguay's other great pre-Columbian tribe, have suffered a similar fate, with today's population only a tenth of the 10,000 persons recorded in 1900.
Those not killed by whites or their diseases - mainly influenza, tuberculosis and smallpox - live in servitude to them.
According to a survey by Paraguayan anthropologists, 86 per cent of the white and mestizo (mixed Indian-white) population believe Indians to be "inferior," and 77 per cent think they are "animals" because they have not been baptized. On the ranches in the Chaco scrubland of western Paraguay, the name for Indian is "pig."
"They know the white man valuse them less than a horse or cow," said The Most Rev. Anibal Maricevich, bishop of Concepcion, on the Chaco frontier.
Nowhere are abuses against the Indians worse than in the region of the Guayaki tribe on the new highway leading to the region of Paraguay's frontier with Argentina and Brazil. Protests against the situation have been made in both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.
Sen. James Abourezk (D-S.D.) said: "A government dedicated to the extermination of a part of its people does not deserve our aid any more than a convicted, self-confessed murderer deserves to receive a government welfare check."
Some of the reports have been exaggerated.
Abuses by Paraguayan settlers in the early 1960s, including torture and an infamous slave market at San Juan Nepomuceno, were documented were reported by a German anthropologist in 1971 and 1972 as though they were current events. The result was an international outcry that was joined by some Paraguayan anthropoligists who later admitted thy had not been to the area at that time.
At least three of them admitted privately that the reports were "exaggerated." They had repeated the charges "Because we saw the value it would have in changing Paragrayan attitudes," according to anthropologist Miguel Chase-Sardi in an interview about a year ago.
He ang others had been trying for years to get the government to move against the abuses of Indians, and that is what happened. Control of the newly famous Guayakis was hastily transferred to the New Tribes Mission Group, a fundamentalist organization that had been operating peacefully in Paraguay for nearly 50 years.
Its members were later attacked by journalists arriving to follow up the scandal. The reports said the missionaries had done nothing to help the Indians. Members of the New Tribes Mission said their methods customarily require them to live with a group two to three years, to learn its customs, before beginning to work with them.
"Actually, things have improved a great deal out there now," said the Rev. Bartolomeu Melis, another prominent anthropologist, in 1975. He was expelled from Paraguay a year ago.
Efforts by other groups to help the Indians have been opposed by Gen. ALfredo Stroessner's government as intervention. Last year Chase-Sardi and another anthropologist were arrested on vague charges of "subversion." Chase-Sardi was released seven months later after protests from a Danish group and the U.S. embassy in Asuncion.
They had been involved in Project Marandu, an effort to speed the Indians' assimilation into modern Paraguay and to reduce prejudice against them.
Jointly sponsored by the Catholic University of Asuncion and the Inter-American Foundation of Arlington, Va., the project was essentially educational - which, informed Paraguayans say, is why the government banned it.
Ranchers who won 77 per cent of the country's land and use the Indians as cheap labor are strongly opposed to educating the Indians about their rights to that land. Nevertheless, the government says there is nothing amiss.
"It is impossible to establish the crime of genocide," according to Defens Ministry documents, "because there is no proof of intent."