Paraguay: Campesinos declare indefinite strike

July 13, 2017

Thousands of landless workers marched on July 12 through the streets of the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion, to demand the cancellation of debts contracted with the national bank.

Earlier, the Paraguayan Agriculture Minister Juan Carlos Baruja told a news conference that the debts will not be annulled as requested by the strike's organisers, the umbrella National Inter-Sector Coordination (CNI) group.

The demonstrators have been blocking the centre of the capital since July 10, setting up their camp in front of the National Congress.

The landless workers say they will indefinitely prolong their protest until President Horacio Cartes agrees to hold face-to-face talks with them.

They claim the government has not fulfilled its promise to cancel their debts with the national bank, as agreed in a deal reached in April last year after a 23-day strike.

The campesinos are also calling for increased public subsidies to family farms via a "social emergency bill" and a faster process to legalise the transfer of deed titles.

CNI leader Luis Aguayo condemned what he calls the “complete failure of the policies implemented for the sector," as illustrated by “the rise of poverty and extreme poverty in rural areas.”

The CNI includes the Coordination of Campesinas Organisations, the National Organisation of Sugar Cane Producers, the Indigenous campesinos of Nane Mba'e and the Agrarian and Popular Movement.

Land ownership has long formed the basis for bloody disputes in Paraguay, where the state often acts in the interests of the elite: 2.6% of landowners hold 85.5% of Paraguay’s land, while 91.4% of campesinos — with properties smaller than 20 hectares — hold only 6% of agricultural land, according to the 2008 agriculture census.

Agribusinesses involved in the export of soy have been criticised as the main factor for the nation's unequal land distribution.

Soy cultivation also requires the heavy use of pesticides and genetically-modified organisms, said to be linked to many cases of lethal poisoning among campesino families.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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