In the past decade, Paraguay has become the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world. The monoculture covers 2 millions hectares and it is estimated that the expansion has caused the expulsion of 90 thousand campesino families since the mid 1990s. 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 province. 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 poverty.
The actions of campesino organizations in resistance are making things complicated for the expansion of agribusiness and its corrupt foundations. Since the Supreme Court confirmed the legitimacy of the land occupations in Tekojoja, soy farmers fear the possibility of a large campesino offensive to take back land throughout the Caaguazu region. 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
An example of what can happen to those who don't go along with their own demise is the case of Antonio Almada.
Almada left his house one night in the end of May in the company of a "friend." He was found dead the next day at the border of Highway 10 at approximately 1000 metres of his house.
The assistant district attorney of Curuguaty concluded in his report that the cause of death was a traffic accident. Nevertheless the family members say that Antonio Almada was tortured, shot and murdered. His corpse showed marks of beatings, ripped out nails, his genital organ totally torn away, and a bullet whole in the neck.
Some people living in the area afterwards said that they heard shouting in an abandoned house. Later at the house they also found blood stains and nails.
Sound like a traffic accident to you?
Earlier this month campesino activists accused US marines of the Southern Command stationed in their country and paramilitaires (including the government sponsored Guard of Citizen Security) of involvement in the disappearances of thirty individuals in previous four weeks.
The following is from Latinamerica Press.
Rural activists at risk
Gustavo Torres. Aug 2, 2007
The politically powerful and traffickers may be behind a series of murders and disappearances of campesino leaders.
Rural poverty in Paraguay is strongly linked to large-scale agriculture and major land owners. As social protest becomes criminalized, rural workers here are facing increasing danger, and even death.
The export-oriented development model based on agriculture present in Paraguay leaves large areas of land in the hands of very few individuals or companies, which not only affects campesino communities but also indigenous ones who face the loss of their land and forced displacement.
Large plantations are also managed by illegal groups — often tied to the political class — where there are marijuana fields and clandestine runways for contraband trafficking, including the illegal logging trade.
To the thousands of campesinos who leave their rural homelands every year for the sprawling shantytowns in urban centers in Paraguay or abroad — according to some studies 30 percent of the Paraguayan population has already emigrated — they face disappearances and even murder for trying to occupy unused lands, or blocking roads to voice their problems, including the country’s massive soy monoculture. Local drug trafficking rings and illegal logging on nature reserves are also among their complaints.
A high death toll
More than 100 campesinos have been killed in the fight for access to land since the fall of the 1954-89 Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship, says Maguiorina Balbuena, one of the founders of the Paraguayan Campesino Movement in 1980 and the National Coordinating Group of Rural and Indigenous Women in 1999.
Only one of these killings has resulted in a conviction. Peasant leader Esteban Balbuena’s killer was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The rest have gone unpunished.
Maguiorina Balbuena points to the murder of 25-year-old Antonio Almada, a rural youth leader who was a member of the Paraguayan Campesino Movement in the department of Canindeyú near the border with Brazil. On May 26 of this year, he was ambushed in his hometown, and tortured to death. His body was found 1,000 meters from his home, on a nearby road. The state attorney ruled the crime a traffic accident. His relatives, however, reported that his body had been beaten.
“His nails were pulled off, his genitals were blown off and he had a bullet hole in his neck. Several neighbors said they heard screams from a nearby abandoned house that night, where they found blood,” reported the Secretariat for International Relations of the Popular Socialist Convergence Party. The victim was a departmental member.
Faced with pressure from campesina organizations demanding justice, the state prosecutor has reopened the case.