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PARAGUAY
Plantation power
Gustavo Torres
2/15/2007
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Farm land is still held in just a few hands, while monoculture expands.

No other country in Latin America has land concentrated in so few hands as Paraguay.

According to the most recent agricultural census of the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry, taken in 1992, 1 percent of Paraguay’s landowners hold 77 percent of the country’s land. On the other extreme, 40 percent of Paraguayan farmers hold just 1 percent of the land, or from 0 to 5 hectares (0 to 12 acres).

Just 351 Paraguayan landowners possess 9.7 million hectares (24 million acres), while, according to civil society organizations, there are 350,000 campesina families with little land, or without land altogether.

This situation is one of the central causes of starvation and malnutrition in the Paraguayan countryside, where 22.8 percent of the rural population lives in extreme poverty. These families’ average incomes only cover just over 58 percent of the average daily bread basket costs.

Campesinos are harshly critical of the governmental National Institute of Rural and Land Development, known by the Spanish acronym INDERT, which administers the country’s agrarian policy.

For Luis Rafael Aguayo, secretary general of the National Roundtable of Campesino Organizations, known as MCNOC, a grouping of 25 campesina’s, women’s, and indigenous’ organizations, farm land redistribution for landless campesinos must be a central part of land reform.

Weak labor market
Without this, development is impossible in Paraguay, Aguayo says. Despite the lack of strong labor market and a trend of deindustrialization in the country, growing numbers of campesina populations are moving to Paraguay’s urban centers, without any prospects of welfare.

The government, however, is not taking advantage of its legal resources. Expropriation, viable in cases of social interest, such as unproductive fields, is used less and less.

The Constitution states that “land reform is one of the fundamental factors to achieve rural welfare.” The government is also obligated to implement agrarian reform by the Land Statute, a law that favors female heads of household so they can be awarded land, and also a 50-percent deferral of monthly payments when the land awardees are women.
Despite this law, and others like it, Paraguay’s public policies are still insufficient to promote women’s true access to land ownership, which guarantees land titles, credits and technical support, Aguayo says.

“In all cases, before the serious land access problem, the Paraguayan state has implemented repressive policies with violent evictions, where campesina women and children are subjected to cruel and discriminatory treatment. The constitutional laws and guarantees observed and applied unilaterally by the state only favor one sector of the population, the one that holds the political and economic power,” Aguayo explained.

“The government expects to resolve the land access problem through the market mechanism that the World Bank is promoting so the land can be bought and sold like merchandise, without taking the urgent needs of the people into account,” he added.

Lacking a land reform policy and an answer from state institutions, campesina and indigenous organizations are demanding that their human, economic and social rights be respected through civil disobedience, including peaceful marches, institutional takeovers, road blockades and occupation of unproductive fields.

Aguayo says that these actions are risky for campesinos, as they often brave serious repercussions from the government.

The landowner’s “mafia”
“More than 2,000 compañeros are on parole for demanding their rights; and in this so-called democratic transition, more than 100 campesino leaders have been murdered by police and military officers and hit men contracted by big landowners, and livestock and soy farmers,” said Aguayo, adding that the “mafia” also affects Paraguay’s campesino movement because it is tied to the “political and judicial powers.”

Belarmino Balbuena, the top leader of the Paraguayan Campesino Movement, says that those in political power “are tied to a landowner model; the state structure is made up of land owners who get rich illegally. The only way in Paraguay to become rich is at the margin of the laws, and land control is a requirement for that. Those who hold land can export meat, own clandestine fleets of planes, traffic marijuana, weapons, cigarettes, lumber…”

The campesinos have are also speaking out against the spread of genetically-modified soy, which has destroyed forests, led to environmental contamination and the coercive expulsion of small-scale farmers from their lands.

Soy production increases by 250,000 hectares (almost 620,000 acres) in Paraguay each year, causing the expulsion of 900,000 campesina families that head to the cities in search of work. Paraguay is the world’s fourth-largest soy producer, with 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) — 64 percent of the country’s farm land — dedicated to this monoculture.

 


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Luis Rafael Aguayo, secretarygeneral of a Paraguay campesino organization.
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