The MAP (Agrarian and Popular Movement), a Paraguayan campesino organization, is in a state of alert and requires international solidarity. A camp of landless youths from Pariri is being threatened with eviction, and there is an attempt to frame and criminalize the organization’s national leader, Jorge Galeano.
The situation reflects the corruption and violence that accompanies the Paraguay’s model of soybean production. Social movements are being criminalised while defending campesino and indigenous communities.
In February of 2007, young landless men and women peacefully recuperated a 14 hectare soybean field, a plot in the community of Parirí whose owner did not have proper title to the land. The community is situated in the district of Vaqueria, department of Caaguazu, in the middle of eastern Paraguay. The expansion of soy monocultures have forced many members of the community to migrate. Soy covers approximately 75% of the surface of Pariri, and 60% of plots once held by campesinos is now in the hands of soy producers. The population, which in the 1980s counted 130 families, has dropped to 41 families. With this direct action, the landless campesinos reiterated their demands for regularization of land tenure in the community.
Campesinos from the Pariri Community Committee have been publicly denouncing this situation since 2004 with no concrete response. They’ve presented various grievances to the INDERT (the government land agency) soliciting a revision of landholdings in the community. Meanwhile, the soy farmers have been slowly acquiring legal title to land which they initially appropriated illegally. The Committee hopes to recover 400 hectares of public land improperly handed over to soy farmers, an area in which many landless campesinos could settle and begin to produce for their basic food needs. According to the MAP, “this recent recuperation is a major victory because the community of Pariri is at the center of the soybean territory. It was unimaginable that we might occupy it. It took great courage valour, with our meager resources, crossing huge soy fields on foot to take back what is ours.”
This direct action was accompanied by a new set of demands, issued to a variety of state agencies, including the Senate commission on Land Reform, the INDERT, and the Attorney General’s Office. During these proceedings it was discovered that the 14 hectares in question was on the verge of being titled by a soy farmer from the neighbouring community of Santa Clara.
It’s important to note here that the MAP was able to legally recuperate 7 campesino lots in similar conditions in the neighbouring community of Tekojoja. That struggle began in 2003 with the occupation of 9 lots that were in soy farmers’ hands. Over the following three years landless families resisted three evictions. In the last of these evictions, police and paramilitary, led by a land buyer named Opperman, burned 56 houses. One hundred and fifty people were arrested, among them 50 children. Opperman later shot at the campesinos, killing two of them. In September 2006 the Supreme Court decided in favour of the campesinos, obliging the INDERT to reassign the lots to the landless families. President Nicanor Duarte Frutos even launched a project to reconstruct the burned houses as an indemnity for the harm suffered. The construction is currently under way and the president plans to visit the community to inaugurate the new dwellings in the coming days.
Pariri is located only eight km from Tekojoja. The situation of the land is identical there, and many of the names of the soy farmers involved are the same.
Faced with the passivity and complicity of the INDERT, and the continuing lack of public response to the serious problems in campesino communities, the MAP has taken it upon itself to defend its territorial, cultural and food sovereignty1. Building on the victory in Tekojoja, the organization is supporting the Pariri Community Committee in its use of land occupation as a form of peaceful direct action.
Nonetheless, in the last few weeks, the situation in the Pariri camp has become increasingly uncertain, and the threat of coercive eviction has resurfaced. This followed on a meeting between the president of the Coordinadora Agrícola Paraguaya, Hector Cristaldo, and the current president of the INDERT, at which Cristaldo demanded that the titling of the land proceed, and that the investigation of the lots in Tekojoja be suspended. Apparently, the soy farmers and police are waiting to attack until after President Duarte Frutos’ visit to Tekojoja to celebrate the construction of the new houses.
Half-way through April, Jorge Galeano was charged with land invasion in relation to the Pariri recuperation. The national director of the organization was the only person charged for the action, and we can assume this is an attempt to debilitate the organization by imprisoning its leader. Galeano has been repeatedly accused of occupying land, and has been under restrictive bail conditions for years, and this new charge could condemn him to jail time.
The clear strategy is to cripple the MAP by attacking its public face, both at the national and international level. Galeano is part of the national directorate of the Tekojoja popular movement, led by the ex-bishop Fernando Lugo, the main opponent to the Colorado party in the coming elections. This is all part of a broad criminalization of social movements, particularly militant campesino organizations, causing a marked increase in the disappearances and assassinations in the countryside. With the proposal of a new anti-terrorist law, the situation can only get worse.
The actions of Cristaldo, as representative of the soy sector, demonstrate the corruption and violence that underwrites agribusiness. The MAP and other social organizations in Paraguay derive their legitimacy from the fact that their actions are an attempt to rebuild the rule of law and make the constitution work in their country. In contrast, agribusiness and soy monoculture in Paraguay are based on illegality, corruption and the violation of human rights. Just as transgenic soybeans have spread through the country via seed-smuggling from Argentina, the soy frontier has expanded with the help of corruption among INDERT agents, illegal logging, irregular land purchases and the violent eviction of campesino and indigenous communities.
In the past decade, Paraguay has become the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world. The monoculture covers 2 millions hectares2 and it is estimated that the expansion has caused the expulsion of 90 thousand campesino families since the mid 1990s3. Soy has grown exponentially since 2003 in Caaguazu, where 72% of the land it privatized, concentrating the campesino and indigenous population on what’s left. Today, soy covers approximately 19% of the surface of the province4. Paraguay has one of the most unequal land distributions in the world: 2% of holdings (approximately 6400 farms) occupy 82% of the arable land, even though 42.3% of the population still lives in rural areas. 46.6% of the population still lives below the poverty line, and studies show that there is a direct relation between soy expansion and rural poverty5. The growing biofuels market will only make this situation worse, since it will inflate the profits of large landowners and increase pressure on the land.
The actions of campesino organizations are making things complicated for the expansion of agribusiness and its corrupt foundations. Since the Supreme Court confirmed the legitimacy of the land recuperations in Tekojoja, soy farmers fear that the recuperation in Pariri could be the first step of a large campesino offensive to take back land throughout Caaguazu. The campesino struggle is based on the defense of culture and Paraguayan identity. But it is also global in scope, since confronts the interests of global agribusiness, and the domination of corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer, Cargill, ADM and others.
For these reasons, the campesino struggle desperately needs the support of international organizations. It requires organizations that are committed to monitoring developments in this violent confrontation. Ideally, it could count on the support of human rights observers in the conflict area. Our objective is to foment international scrutiny of the Paraguayan government’s actions against its campesino and indigenous citizens.
The MAP urgently needs the following:
1.Help and solidarity from international organizations;
2.A letter-writing campaign demanding justice from the various governmental institutions involved. In the past, massive letterwriting campaigns were significant in achieving favourable resolutions to campesino struggle.