Paraguay: Soy Expansion Triggers Repression, Eviction of Peasants

In Paraguay, the expansion of monocultures like soy leads to an agricultural model in which peasants have no stand. The soy production model is an export-orientated agro-industrial model that generates wealth for a few and poverty for many. Almost half of the population in Paraguay consists of farmers, peasants and indigenous, while land concentration in terms of the percentage of land that is in the hands of large landholders, is one of the highest of the world. The lack of access to land causes poverty, malnutrition, social marginalisation, rural unemployment and the migration of hundreds of families. For this reason, land reform is one of the most important challenges that the country faces. Since July 2006 the MCNOC (National coordination platform of peasant organizations) reintensified their campaign for integral land reform. In response, communities have been violently repressed by militaries and police forces. Thousands of families are currently living under threat. 

Since the 10th of July, 12.327 families of the MCNOC mobilised and organised occupations in 8 of the 17 departments of the country. In this campaign more than 2000 landless families1 have taken action and occupied lands that are legally meant for land reform but through corruption ended up in the hands of big landowners and enterprises dedicated mostly to soy monocultures2. More than thousand peasant and indigenous families mobilised for weeks throughout the country with the cry of ‘Let’s globalise the struggle! Let’s globalise hope’ supporting the 1570 people settled in 15 new encampments. The reaction to their claims was repression, eviction, imprisonment and torture.  

Violence is the real face of the hypocrite Paraguayan government 

In Paraguay the economy depends on the export of 3 products: meat, wood and soy3; markets dominated by foreign enterprises. Commodities and food are produced for export while it is estimated that almost half of the population lives below the poverty line. Departments with the most intensive expansion of the acreage of soy (as Caazapá and San Pedro) are precisely those departments with the biggest incidence of extreme poverty4. Land is increasingly falling into hands of big landowners; the producers with more than 1000 hectares (1 percent of the farms) own 77 percent of the farm land5. Many of them are foreigners such as Brazilian and Japanese producers dedicated to GM soy production6. In 2005, 2 million hectares of soy got planted7 which is almost half of the total surface of Holland. It is estimated that half of these 2 million hectares, were illegally planted on lands destined for land reform. Many of these lands are obtained by Brazilian soy producers through different forms of corruption.  

Cynically, current president Nicanor Duarte Frutos has stated publicly that ‘the capitalist soy producers’ are confiding in a production project that is “selfish and excluding, and are not even capable of giving 2 hectares of land to the farmers to sow it”, assuring that “Latin America doesn’t need this style of economic model”8 Meanwhile he has permitted numerous operations of police and militaries repressing the demonstrations and peasant communities. Under the government of Nicanor Duarte Frutos more than 2000 peasant leaders got charged, hundreds of families mutilated and more that 15 peasant leaders were murdered9. The presence of North American troops in Paraguay has aggravated the criminalization of peasant organizations. According to studies of Serpaj the worst cases of repression against farmers have taken place in areas with the highest concentration of US troops: “The US military is advising the Paraguayan police and military about how to deal with these farmer groups…they are teaching theory as well as technical skills to Paraguayan police and military…the US troops form part of a security plan to repress the social movement in Paraguay”10. National sovereignty, the welfare and sustainability of its population don’t seem to have much value for this government as long as the agribusiness keeps filling its pocket. The next cropping season for (mainly transgenic) soy starts in September. Is this why the level of evictions is accelerating?

The events of the last weeks show that repression against the peasant movements is intensifying.

On the 19th of July during a road block in Caazapá, in which more than 1000 peasants of the MCNOC participated, 51 persons got arrested, including several children and one pregnant woman. 8 persons got seriously injured and had to be taken to the hospital. During the repression two children disappeared. More than 200 demonstrators were brutally tortured for more than 2 hours11. 

On Wednesday, the 9th of August, land evictions took place in areas that either recently or   since years have been converted into soy monoculture deserts. Alto Paraná, an eastern department of Paraguay has undergone an invasion of the countryside since the 70s. San Pedro and Caazapá, departments situated more towards the center of Paraguay are being opened up for the expansion of soy in the last years as the soy frontier is opening up towards the west of the country. 

In a community in San Pedro, 90 families struggle already for 5 years for 1001 ha of arable land. Various times they got evicted, imprisoned, wounded and persecuted. On the 2nd of August police and gunmen, under the supervision of district attorney Lilian Ruiz, flattened down the houses of two settlers. They got arrested and one of them, Antonio Escalante, got shot in the thigh. Both of them are imprisoned and Antonio didn’t receive any medical attention. One week later, on the 9th at 5 o clock in the morning hundreds of riot cops and gunmen of  Paraguayan  landowner Calixto Saguier, repressed and seized settlers and burned their houses. They destroyed 600 hectares of self-subsistence crops, again under the watchful eye of district attorney Lilian Ruiz. Calixto Saguier owns approximately 1500 to 2000 hectares of land in that  region, renting it out to Brazilian soy producers.  

On the same day, in the 5 years old settlement Limoy II (Alto Parana) Brazilian soy producers and gunmen, accompanied by the military and police force (but without the presence of a district attorney!) tried to evict the settlers from land that was allocated to them by the INDERT (the official institution for land distribution) but that got illegally12 obtained by soy producers. 

Also on the 9th of August, in Yuty (Caazapá) hundreds of police men, riot cops and Brazilian gunmen evicted 200 families. Since the 11th of July the families occupied 5000 hectares that were in the hands of soy producers without legal land titles. The families are camping on the side of the road and are threatened with arrest and eviction. On Friday, 11th of August the police invaded the house of Ernesto Alvarenga under the guise of the search for a weapon. They confiscated a rusty machete, robbed 500.000 guaraníes (80 Euro) and terrorised the kids. His wife Rosa Civil got a hearth attack and had to be hospitalized. According to Ramon Medina from the MCNOC: “This maneuver is meant to terrify the people that want to support the struggle of the landless. They attack the landless peasants and their allies, in order to isolate and destroy their fight”13. 

The 5 detenees of 1 de marzo: Licinio Morínigo Casco (21), Diosnel Morínigo Casco(29), Alcides Delorosario Obregón Villalba (38), Daniel Monzón Fernández (68) y Pedro Nolasco Bustamante Dávalos(42)

In another soy dominated department in the southeast of Paraguay, Itapúa, a peasant occupation got evicted on the 31st of July for the 5th time in 6 years time. Six years ago the 140 families of the community obtained 140 hectares through the INDERT (ex-IBR). After some months they occupied an -at that time- unexploited bordering area of 800 hectares. In December 2005, bordering soy producers with the help of the GOE (a special force that protects soy fields) of the National Police violated and tortured the peasants. They threatened the children and one pregnant woman got shot. With the help of 5 bulldozers 700 ha of crops for self-subsistence were destroyed14.  

In the frame of the campaign launched in July, they reoccupied 1000 ha. The end of July they got evicted by the GOE and members of the police force of María Auxiliadora. Five peasants were detained. The five of them (one of them being 68 years old) were imprisoned for days in a prison cell of merely 1 by 2 meter closed of   with a metal door with a window not bigger than 10 by 10 cm. They were charged with privately-owned real estate invasion, serious coercion and criminal association.  

According to Ramon Medina (MCNOC) this is the continuation of the policy of judicialisation and criminalization of social poverty. According to the MCNOC the government has “a deliberate policy to liquidate all the social movements, especially those rural organizations that resist the neoliberal capitalist policy or the government of Nicanor Duarte Frutos. Reactivation of production levels, even less economical reactivation is non-existent. The agrarian reform is not on the agenda. That’s why by organization, formation and mobilization bringing forth genuine claims of our people, is the way to answer these violent deeds”.   

Peasant movements demand land rights, self sovereignty and rural development, but the government keeps playing the cards of the big land owners. The governments’ answer to the demands of the peasants is eviction, the burning of their homes, the destruction of their crops, arrests, murder and intimidation. A public discourse is being held up that the campesinos are delinquents and provoke social unrest, while they are merely demanding and reclaiming their right to land and a living.  

This is the critical situation lived in Paraguay, while at the same time representatives from big international NGOs like the WWF are giving a green face to the production model that is causing this violence. In the second Round Table Meeting on ‘Responsible Soy’ at the end of this month, a so called multi-stakeholders process will be held in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital. On the agenda is the elaboration of a ´brand´ of ‘responsible’ soy. This in order to try to ‘soften’ the effects of soy expansion that would reach up to 300 million tons in 2020 (a growth of 60%). NGOs like WWF, Solidaridad and Guyra Paraguay (Birdlife International) will be sharing their table with agribusiness like Unilever, Grupo Andre Maggi, investors like ABN-AMRO and the soy lobby. Civil society organisations and NGOs involved in this process, promoting sustainability seem to forget that talking about sustainability and responsibility doesn’t fit with a market model that has profit and expansion as its only goal.

Guiding a devastating production model with voluntary certifications and consultancies doesn’t mean anything in a country like Paraguay where impunity and corruption reign, laws are not followed and monitoring is almost nihil. For what use is a scheme like this to indigenous and peasants who don’t even have access to land or land titles, investment opportunities and a healthy environment? 

20 th of August, 2006

An Maeyens, A SEED Europe : 

More info on the violent face of the soy expansion model: report “Paraguay sojero”: 

Recent cases of intoxication by agrotoxins in Paraguay: