Paraguay: Farmers celebrate debt cancellation vote

Farmers rally for debt cancellation in Asuncion.

Paraguay's lawmakers voted on August 2 in favour of the Financial Rehabilitation bill to support small farmers overwhelmed by debts.

The farmers, who have been holding protests for three weeks in the capital Asuncion, brought the city to a standstill once more prior to the vote.

The legislation, introduced by the progressive Guasu Front, will fund and restructure the debts of small farmers who own less than 30 hectares of land with subsidies of up to US$10,000 a person.

The conservative government has always publicly refused to cancel their debts, favouring instead a state funding solution — as agreed in a deal last year following 23 days of demonstrations.

But 12 months later, the small farmers said that the government had failed to fulfil its part of the agreement and demanded lawmakers pass a bill addressing their concerns.

Some members of the government had maintained that the proposed system of state funding corresponded to the de facto cancellation of the small farmers' debts, and that therefore the legislation was not needed.

But now that the lower chamber approved the bill, one week after senators did, the government announced that it would follow suit.

Pedro Alliana, president of the governing Colorado Party, said that President Horacio Cartes would sign the bill to avoid further "tensions" in society.

The small farmers, who came from all over the country to demand the government support family agriculture, announced that they would not go back home until the bill is signed.

Their representatives will meet with the Budget Ministry to deliver the list of small farmers who will benefit from the subsidies.

About 17,000 people are said to be affected and the total debt is believed to run to US$34 million.

The nation has one of the biggest small farmer populations in South America: about 35% of the country's population work on the land.

Land ownership has long formed the basis for bloody disputes in Paraguay, where the state often acts in the interests of the elite.

Less than 3% of landowners hold 85.5% of Paraguay’s lands while 91.4% of small farmers — with properties smaller than 20 hectares — hold only 6%, according to the 2008 agriculture census.

[Republished from TeleSUR English.]

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