World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


A Genuine South American Hero

Paraguay’s Lugo: A Genuine South American Hero and a Worthy Challenge to Brazil

As many Latin American policy analysts have suggested, the election of moderate-left Fernando Lugo and his Alianza Patriotica para el Cambio coalition is yet another manifestation of a South American referendum in favor of a socialist-tinged democracy. Undoubtedly, Lugo’s inauguration marked a transformative moment in the government’s position towards Paraguay’s longstanding agribusiness-export model. This is an issue dominated by socioeconomic political tensions, which are likely to break out between the country’s Brazilian landowners and irredentist Paraguayans. Meanwhile, watchful government officials in Brasilia are carefully monitoring the developments next door.

Lugo’s presidential campaign for social change had drawn intense support from Paraguay’s campesinos in a country where 1 percent of the population owns 77 percent of the land. On April 9, ten days before his election, Lugo, a former bishop, staged a “‘march for hope’” in the capital city of Asunción, with 5,000 supporters in attendance. Feeding the hopes of the crowd, Lugo referred to the brasiguayos, or longstanding Brazilian land-owning elite residents of Paraguay, as a “mafia” and held a moment of silence for two campesinos recently killed in land struggles in Tekojoja. Assuring his supporters that “’the mafia’s reign [was] coming to an end,’” Lugo’s triumphant early victory speech did not fully indicate the complex reality of the issue.

Now that the excitement surrounding Lugo’s impressive April 20 election has begun to fade, he is struggling to discover a viable approach towards taxing soya exports in a down market in order to provide funds for an extensive domestic social program the country so desperately needs. To do this, he will have to bring both sides to the table to avoid sparking a full-blown conflict between large-scale Brazilian agribusinesses in Paraguay and community farmers, who have been relegated to tiny plots of land spread throughout the country. Complicating matters is his stated intent to renegotiate the Itaipu Dam treaty with Brazil, which would provide a higher level of compensation for Paraguayan energy sales to Brazilian entities. As brasiguayos face increasing pressure from resident militant campesino resistance groups, Brasilia is bound to be less responsive towards Asunción’s urgent supplications.

Brazilian Agribusinesses in Paraguay
The ubiquitous presence of foreign agribusinesses in Paraguay is a long-standing fact of life. Following its humiliating defeat in the War of the Triple Alliance in 1870, Paraguay, out of desperation, sold large tracts of government-owned land to help pay off its huge war debt. “Political cronies” of the government often received “the most fertile parcels,” which they then resold to the brasiguayos, making a handsome profit from the transaction . During his 35-year rule, Colorado Party dictator Alfredo Stroessner stalwartly represented agricultural institutions that favored the wealthy foreign-linked landowners, through the creation of the Paraguayan Institute for Rural Reform, whose mission was to legitimize the incursion of agribusiness into campesino communities. The Paraguayan National Security Doctrine, a curious piece of legislation, set up a cooperative system of elite-run surveillance and monitoring enterprises, which could effectively stifle the possibility of an organized peasant revolt.

According to the report titled “The Refugees of the Agroexport Model” by the Asunción-based research group, BASE-IS, the “Round–up Ready” soya boom that began in 1999 initiated the widespread use of powerful agrochemicals like Round-up, which, because of their arguably adverse health effects, severely affected the livelihood of peasant communities. The prevalent use of these agrotoxins by large Paraguay-based soya agribusinesses, has presented a host of problems to campesino populations utilizing the traditional small-scale farming model. Among the negative consequences of unregulated spraying have been the pollution of local water sources and the poisoning of farm animals which represent an all-important source of physical capital for small farmers. In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, Lugo expressed his disgust with the negative practices of Brazilian-related agribusiness, which he referred to as “the terrorism that affects the children in my country who die as a result of agricultural toxins.” Now that a champion of the traditionally marginalized campesino community has been elected chief of state, rural groups throughout Paraguay are intensifying their efforts to petition for an equitable redistribution of the land. On October 3, a protester was killed in a confrontation between police and 150 peasants attempting to occupy a brasiguayo’s estate in Alto Parana. Shortly after in Asunción, Lugo established a temporary agreement between several campesino organizations to halt land invasions, which could prompt dangerous confrontations with Brazil, in exchange for a promise to speed up plans for agrarian reform.

Brazilian Negotiations
On October 27, the fruits of that promise began to show. While meeting at the White House with President George W. Bush, Lugo announced his government’s purchase of 22,000 hectares of land from 11 Brazilian soya producers based in San Pedro. A consensus had been achieved during a meeting with campesino land reform groups and brasiguayos at the presidential palace. This represented a significant achievement for Lugo, but did not diminish the fact that Brazilian authorities will continue to seek complete protection for the large number of Brazilians living throughout Paraguay. In late October, the Brazilian military temporarily occupied the “Friendship Bridge” in Itaipu as a warning to Paraguay that should Asuncion fail to take measures to guarantee the safety of wealthy foreign agriculturalists currently stationed within the country, this could be a dangerous consequence. A senior Brazilian official has claimed that the occupation was part of a series of “periodic exercises” to eradicate illegal commerce in the area.

The issue has become increasingly complicated as Lugo also seeks to renegotiate the bilateral Itaipu dam treaty. While Brazil currently pays $ 200 million for 95 percent of the power produced by the jointly-owned dam, Lugo seeks to increase this to $ 1.5 billion, which he and his aides believe to be the fair market price for the energy produced at the facility. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva repeatedly has stated that the current price will have to remain in place. Nevertheless, Lula’s consent to such a deal could be used as a powerful bargaining chip in exchange for increased protection for his countrymen and their corporate farms in Paraguay. Lugo would be wise to keep this in mind if he wishes for land reform to be a welcomed centerpiece of his mandate for change in Paraguay.


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Afghanistan: Record Number Of Women And Children Killed Or Wounded

More women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009, a United Nations report revealed on Monday... More>>

Tale Of Two Pandemics: Follow The Science And Do Not Forget One At The Cost Of The Other

Covid-19 has posed innumerable health, economic, and social challenges for all, including people living with HIV. It has exposed the fragility of health systems around the globe and has diverted political attention and funding from other infectious diseases like TB and HIV... More>>

UN: Rights Chief Calls For Prompt Release Of Protestors Held In Cuba
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday called for the prompt release of protestors and journalists detained during anti-government demonstrations in Cuba, some of whom are being held incommunicado... More>>

Focus On: UN SDGs

Food Systems: More Than 100 Countries Discuss Visions For Futures To Accelerate Global Action Ahead Of September Summit

More than 100 countries came together over the course of three-days to discuss how they will transform their national food systems to drive progress against the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030... More>>

Food Systems: Italian & Rwandan Leaders Join Urgent Call To Transform World’s Food Systems As Pre-Summit Begins

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame stress need for more inclusive, sustainable and holistic approaches ahead of the Summit in New York in September... More>>

UN: Play:Fair For People And Planet – A Major United Nations Music Activation
organized by the UN SDG Action Campaign in partnership with Music Innovation Hub, Keychange, the city of Milan, the Milan Triennale, and partners from the SDG Music Network, will be held at an unexpected location in the center of Milan, Italy, taking into account safety measures with a limited on-site audience consisting of activists and fans... More>>