Paraguayan police and military attacked the peasant community of Tekojoja in Paraguay on June 24th, killing two men and leaving many injured. Paraguay’s security forces were deployed to protect Brazilian Genetically Modified Soy Growers. In the melee, 270 farmers were evicted, 54 houses were burnt down and the community’s crops were destroyed. Also, 130 people were arrested, many of them women and children.
The peasant community of Tekojoja is a land settlement of 500 hectares where 56 peasant families live. It is located 70 km from the city of Caaguazu in Paraguay. The community is part of the Organización Agraria y Popular, part of MCNOC (National Coordination Platform of Peasant Organization) Via Campesina Paraguay. They are also involved in the Frente por la Soberanía y la Vida (Front for Sovereignty and Life).
Caauguazu, along with San Pedro, are the regions where the GM soy monocultures have been largely expanding in Paraguay in the last 5 years. There are 2 million hectares of GM soy monocultures in Paraguay and the government plans the expansion of 2 million more hectares.
In Paraguay less than 2% of the population owns 70% of the land. This has led to the expulsion of peasants from their historical territories. Many of these expulsions took place to clear land for the export oriented GM soy monocultures. As a result, the rate of land conflicts has multiplied in the last few years.
Tekojoja is one of the peasant settlements recovered during the land reform. However, many of these lands have gone back into the hands of private land owners, by both illegal maneuvers and by tricking peasants. This is because of the expansion of the GM soy monocultures.
Adelin Osperman is one of Brazil’s GM soy producers who wanted to control these lands. He began a juridical trial against the peasants, despite the fact that the settlement was legally recognized 3 years ago by the current government of Nicanor Duarte Frutos. Carlos González, a member of the Coordinación de la Organización Agraria y Popular (Coordination of Agrarian and Popular Organization) stated, "The judge in charge of the juridical process has never taken into account that this land belonged to the state and was donated to the peasant organizations with the land reform program." In August 2004, the community was attacked during an attempted eviction. Several arrests and injuries resulted.
On Friday June 24, 2005 at 5:30 a.m., Osperman’s attorney Pedro Torrales and Nelly Varela appeared with 150 policemen with the intention of evicting the whole community. During the eviction, people were harassed and brutally beaten. While the police evicted and arrested the people, paramilitary groups destroyed the houses with Caterpillar tractors and burned them down. 130 people were arrested in all, among them 40 children, all of whom were taken to the local jail in Caaguazu.
Jorge Galeano, a peasant leader of the community, said that after the incident 29 men, 19 women and 40 children were released, but several peasants remain missing.
During the eviction, Osperman, along with hired gunmen, entered the community with trucks. The gunmen shot at the peasants, killing 20-year-old Angel Cristaldo and 49-year-old Leopoldo Torres. In addition, five other people were severely injured—all while local police stood idly by. Anibal Gonzalez was in critical condition at the Hospital La Candelaria (Caaguazu) and had to be operated on.
Osperman and several of his gunmen have been arrested because of the murders. An arsenal of weapons including four shotguns and one revolver were also found in the trucks that entered the peasant community to destroy houses and crops. The actions of these paramilitary groups have been widely denounced during the last years. It is with the help of these groups that the majority of the evictions took place usually under the collaboration of military and police groups. The last time this was denounced was in January this year when Jorge Galeano publicly accused Osperman of hiring armed groups to terrorize the peasant communities.
The 270 people have lost all of their belongings. The landowner took away three trucks which belonged to the peasants. Only one of the trucks has been found and is in the hands of the police. The whole community is now facing the winter without clothes, food or shelter.
The peasant organizations have planned several demonstrations for the coming days. There will be demonstrations in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, in front of the attorney’s offices, denouncing the behavior of the two attorneys that ordered the evictions. One of the attorneys, Nelly Varela ordered the police to take the children out of the school and arrest them because they were "criminals", stated Galeano. A peasant organization will try to meet the president of INDERT (Rural Development and Land Issue Institution) and demand the protection of their lands by this institute. "This land belongs to us and we can prove it. We have the documents from the government institution INDERT and we will not leave," Galeano said.
Many land conflicts take place during the soy crop season (December to March) when peasants try to stop the pesticide fumigations in their communities and confront the police and military that guard the soy fields.
Though they are poisoned by the fumigation of pesticides and are suffering severe health problems, most peasants do not have access to any kind of medical help, because the health care in Paraguay was recently privatized. The Coordination of Peasant and Indigenous Women is also currently involved in a court case against two Brasilian soy producers accused of murdering an 11 year old boy, Silvino Talavera by their careless fumigation of Round Ready herbicide.
International organizations should spread the word about this situation, network for solidarity actions and send human right observers to Paraguay. The peasant communities need help in the form of legal advocacy and health care. They need to cover the costs of lawyers to defend their lands and to denounce the violations of their rights.
To contact the National Coordination Platform of Peasant Organization in Paraguay, email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 00595- 21 -550598
To contact CONAMURI, email: email@example.com Tel: 0595- 21- 490 203
Javiera Rulli is a biologist and works with Grupo de Reflexion Rural. GRR is an activist and research group that works on issues surrounding sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, GMO’s and poltical ecology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.