|Monsanto Strikes in Paraguay|
|Written by Idilio Méndez Grimaldi, Translation by Jim Rudolf|
|Thursday, 28 June 2012 15:21|
The Union of Production Trades (UGP), closely linked to the Zuccolillo Group, owner of the newspaper ABC Color and senior partner of Cargill in Paraguay, had been preparing a national act of protest against the government of Fernando Lugo for 25 June. One of the demands of the so-called tractorazo would be the relaxing of restrictions on commercial cultivation of all transgenic seeds in Paraguay.
Who is behind such a sinister plot? The promoters of an ideology that promotes the maximum economic benefit at whatever price, that more is better, today and in the future.
On Friday, 15 June 2012, a group of police officers attempting to carry out an eviction order in the department of Canindeyú, on the Brazilian border, was ambushed by snipers, together with campesinos demanding land for their survival. A judge and public prosecutor had given the order to protect a large landowner. The result was 17 deaths: six police officers and 11 campesinos, with dozens seriously injured.
The consequences: The lax and spineless government of Fernando Lugo was left weaker and more conservative, heading for impeachment by a congress dominated by the Right. It's a harsh setback for the Left and for social and campesino organizations. It signals the advance of extractive agribusiness at the hands of transnationals like Monsanto, through the persecution of campesinos and the theft of their lands. And lastly, it marks the installation of a convenient platform for the oligarchs and right-wing parties to make a triumphant return to the Executive Branch in the 2013 elections.
On 21 October 2011, The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, led by the liberal Enzo Cardozo, illegally permitted the use of transgenic cotton seed Bollgard Bt, of the North American biotechnology firm Monsanto, for commercial planting in Paraguay. The protests from campesinos and environmental organizations came swiftly. The gene of this cotton is combined with a gene of Bacillus thuringiensis, a toxic bacteria that kills certain cotton pests such as weevil larvae, a Coleoptera that lays eggs inside cotton bolls. The Paraguayan National Agricultural Service (SENAVE), another state institution, led by Miguel Lovera, did not register this transgenic seed in the cultivars register, due to lack of approval by the Health Ministry and the Environment Secretary, as the law requires.
During the subsequent months, Monsanto, through the UGP – which is closely linked to the Zuccolillo Group that publishes the newspaper ABC Color – attacked SENAVE and its president for not registering Monsanto's transgenic seed for commercial use in the entire country.
The critical point appeared to have come with a new denunciation on the part of a pseudo-syndicalist of SENAVE, Silvia Martínez, who accused Lovera on 7 June in ABC Color of corruption and nepotism in the institution that he leads. Martínez is the wife of Roberto Cáceres, technical representative of several agricultural companies, among them Agrosán, recently acquired for $120 million by Syngenta, another transnational. Both are members of the UGP.
The following day, Friday 8 June, the UGP published "The 12 Arguments for Dismissing Lovera" in ABC Color. The alleged arguments were presented to the Paraguayan vice president, the liberal Federico Franco, who shares political beliefs with the minister of agriculture, and who at the time was acting president in the absence of Lugo, on a trip to Asia.
On Friday 15 June, on the occasion of an annual exposition organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Minister Enzo Cardozo let slip a comment to the press that a supposed group of Indian investors in the agrochemical sector had canceled an investment project in Paraguay because of alleged corruption in SENAVE. The group in question remained unnamed. This was taking place at the same time as the tragic events in Curuguaty.
In the context of that exposition prepared by the above ministry, the transnational Monsanto presented another variety of cotton, two times transgenic: Bt and RR, the latter signifying Roundup Ready, a reference to the herbicide produced and patented by Monsanto. The hope of the North American transnational is the registration in Paraguay of this transgenic seed, as has already occurred in Argentina and other countries around the world.
Prior to these events, ABC Color consistently denounced Health Minister Esperanza Martínez and Environment Minister Oscar Rivas for alleged corruption. Both ministers had written judgements unfavorable to Monsanto.
Monsanto received $30 million last year – tax-free because it is not required to declare this type of income – in the form of royalties for the use of transgenic soy in Paraguay. Separately, Monsanto bills for the sale of its transgenic seeds. In an area of roughly three million hectares (7.4 million acres), all the soy cultivated is transgenic. Production in 2010 was around seven million tons.
On the other hand, in the Chamber of Deputies, the project to introduce a Bio-security Law has already been approved in principle. It considers the creation of an office of bio-security, reporting to the Ministry of Agriculture, with extensive authority for the approval of commercial cultivation for all transgenic seeds, whether soy, corn, rice, cotton or some vegetables. The project considers the elimination of the current Commission on Bio-security, which is a member entity of technical employees of the state.
While all of these events were taking place, the UGP was planning a national act of protest against the government of Fernando Lugo for June 25. It involved a demonstration with farming equipment, blocking roads at various points in the country. The demands of the so-called tractorazo were to be the dismissal of Miguel Lovera of SENAVE as well as the relaxation of restrictions on commercial cultivation of all transgenic seeds.
The UGP is led by Héctor Cristaldo, backed by other advocates such as Ramón Sánchez – who does business with the agrochemical sector – and other representatives of agribusiness transnationals. Cristaldo is on the staff of several companies of the Zuccolillo Group, whose main shareholder is Aldo Zuccolillo, owner and director of ABC Color since its establishment in 1967 under the Stroessner regime. Zuccolillo sits on the advisory council of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).
The Zuccolillo Group is senior partner in Paraguay of Cargill, one of the largest agribusiness transnationals in the world. The company faced no restrictions during the construction of one of Paraguay's largest port complexes, Puerto Unión, just 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the water intake of the Paraguayan state water company on the banks of the Paraguay River.
Agribusiness transnationals in Paraguay pay practically no taxes, due to the fierce protection they enjoy in the right-dominated congress. The tax burden in Paraguay is only about 13% of GDP. Sixty percent of tax collected by the Paraguayan state is from value added tax (VAT). Large landowners do not pay taxes. Property tax represents about 0.04% of the tax burden, some $5 million, according to a World Bank study, even when agribusiness generates incomes of roughly 30% of GDP, representing some $6 billion annually.
Paraguay is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Eighty-five percent of lands, or some 30 million hectares (74.1 million acres), is in the hands of 2% of landowners, who dedicate themselves to purely extractive production, or worse, to land speculation.
The majority of these oligarchs own mansions in Punta del Este or Miami and have close relations with transnationals in the financial sector that keep the oligarchs' ill-gotten gains in tax havens or that facilitate overseas investments. All of the oligarchs, in one way or another, are linked to agribusiness and dominate the national political spectrum, with extensive influence in the three branches of government. The UGP reigns there, backed by the transnationals of the financial sector and agribusiness.
The Events of Curuguaty
Curuguaty is a city located in eastern Paraguay, some 200 km (124 mi) from the capital Asunción. A few kilometers from Curuguaty is the Morombí estate, property of landowner Blas Riquelme, with more than 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) in that location. Riquelme comes from the core of the Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989), amassing an immense fortune under the regime, and allied with General Andrés Rodríguez, who carried out the coup d'etat that toppled Stroessner.
Riquelme was president of the Colorado Party for many years, a senator, and owner of several supermarkets and livestock farms. Through legal subterfuge he appropriated some 2,000 hectares (nearly 5,000 acres) that belonged to the Paraguayan state.
This parcel was occupied by landless campesinos who were demanding their allotments from the government of Fernando Lugo. A judge and a public prosecutor ordered the removal of the campesinos by the Special Operations Group (GEO) of the National Police, whose elite members were mostly trained in counterinsurgency in Colombia under the Uribe government.
Only sabotage within the police intelligence teams, with the complicity of the public prosecutor's office, explains the ambush in which six police officers died. It is unclear how highly-trained officers, in the context of Plan Colombia, could fall so easily into an alleged trap laid by campesinos, as the oligarch-dominated press leads one to believe. Their comrades reacted, riddling the campesinos with gunfire, killing 11 and leaving some 50 injured. Among the dead police officers was the GEO chief, Captain Erven Lovera, brother of Lieutenant Colonel Alcides Lovera, President Lugo's head of security.
The plan consists of criminalizing and demonizing all campesino organizations; to push the campesinos to vacate the land for the exclusive use of agribusiness. It is a slow and painful process, this removal of campesinos from Paraguayan land. It directly threatens food sovereignty, and the food culture of the Paraguayan people, for being the campesino growers and ancestral re-creators of the entire Guaraní culture.
The public prosecutor's office, the attorney general, the judicial system, the National Police, and several organisms of the Paraguayan state: They are all controlled through agreements with USAID, the US cooperation agency. The assassination of the brother of the Paraguayan president's security chief is obviously a message directed at President Lugo, whose head would be the next objective, probably via impeachment, an act that would move the government even further to the right in an attempt to calm the oligarchs.
What happened in Curuguaty cost Interior Minister Carlos Filizzola his job. He was replaced by Rubén Candia Amarilla of the opposition Colorado Party, the party that Lugo defeated in the 2008 election, after 60 years of Colorado Party domination, including the tyranny of Alfredo Stroessner.
Candia Amarilla was justice minister in the government of Coloradan Nicanor Duarte (2003-2008), and was attorney general for a time, until last year when he was replaced by another Coloradan, Javier Díaz Verón, at the request of Lugo himself. Candia Amarilla is accused of having instigated the repression of leaders of campesino organizations and popular movements. His nomination as attorney general in 2005 was sanctioned by the then US Ambassador John F. Keane.
Candia Amarilla was responsible for USAID's greater control over the Office of Attorney General, and he was accused by Fernando Lugo in the early days of his administration of plotting to remove Lugo from office. After becoming Lugo's interior minister, Candia Amarilla's first announcement was the elimination of the practice of dialogue with campesinos who occupy properties. The message is that there will be no discussion, simply the application of the law, which means the use of repressive police force without ceremony.
Two days after Candia Amarilla assumed the post of interior minister, members of the UGP, led by Héctor Cristaldo, visited him to seek guarantees for the carrying out of the tractorazo. However, Cristaldo said that the use of force could be suspended in the event of new favorable signals towards the UGP (i.e. removal of restrictions on Monsanto's transgenic seeds, dismissal of Lovera and other ministers, and other benefits for big business and the oligarchs), pushing the government even further to the right.
Cristaldo is a likely candidate for parliament in the 2013 elections via an internal movement of the Colorado Party, led by Horacio Cartes. Cartes is a businessman recently investigated by the United States for money laundering and drug trafficking, according to ABC Color. This fact is echoed in several US State Department cables and published by WikiLeaks, among them one cable that directly mentioned Cartes, from 15 November 2011.
Impeachment of Lugo
Just before press time, the UGP, some members of the Colorado Party, and members of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA), led by senator Blas Llano and allied with the government, threatened Lugo with impeachment.
Lugo relies on the good mood of the Coloradans, as well as of his liberal allies, to stay in office. The two groups are now threatening him with impeachment, surely in search of more power (money) to guarantee the peace. The Colorado Party, allied with other minority parties of the opposition, has the majority necessary to dismiss the president from his duties.
Maybe they are hoping for the "favorable signals" from Lugo that the UGP – in the name of Monsanto, global finance and the oligarchs – is demanding from the government. If not, what may be happening is a next phase of a plan to take over this government, progressive at birth but slowly becoming conservative, controlled by the de facto powers.
Among his credits, Lugo is responsible for the approval of the Antiterrorism Law, initiated by the United States around the world after 9/11. In 2010 Lugo authorized the implementation of the Iniciativa Zona Norte, consisting of the installation and deployment of North American troops and civilians in the northeast of the country – under the nose of Brazil – allegedly to develop activities to benefit campesino communities.
The Guazú Front, a liberal coalition that supports Lugo, has not managed to unify its discourse. Its members are losing perspective in the analysis of real power, failing in the current electoral games. Infiltrated by USAID, many members of the Guazú Front who are part of the administration succumb to the siren song of neoliberalism's rampant consumerism. They become corrupted to the bone, and in practice turn into vain emulators of the bigheaded wealthy who made up the recent governments of the right-wing Colorado Party.
Curuguaty also offers a message for the region, especially Brazil, on whose frontier these bloody events occur. The message is clearly directed by the Masters of War, whose theaters of operations can be observed in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and now Syria. Brazil is constructing global hegemony along with Russia, India and China, together known as the BRIC countries. Nevertheless, the United States is not letting up on its powers of persuasion with the giant of South America. The new commercial alliance including Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Chile is already in operation. It is an obstacle for the expansionist wishes of Brazil towards the Pacific.
Meanwhile, Washington continues its diplomatic offensive of Brasilia, attempting to persuade the government of Dilma Rousseff to strengthen commercial, technological and military ties. And the United States Fourth Fleet, reestablished a few years ago after having been dormant since 1950, patrols the entire South Atlantic, as a sort of additional ring around Brazil, should the country not respond favorably to diplomatic persuasion.
Paraguay is a country caught between both hegemonic countries, although still clearly dominated by the United States. In that respect the events in Curuguaty are also a small signal for Brazil, in the sense that Paraguay could become a powder keg that disrupts development in southwest Brazil.
But above all, the deaths in Curuguaty are a signal of capital, of big business, of ravaging extractivism that devastates the planet and crushes life in all corners of the earth, in the name of civilization and development. Fortunately, the peoples of the world are also responding to these signals of death with signals of their own: of resistance, of dignity, and of respect for all forms of life on the planet.