Hopes of farmers ahead of Paraguay poll
Presidential elections in South American country prompt calls by
landless farmers for return of territories.
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2013 16:21
People in Paraguay are set to go to the polls to elect a new
Among the voters in Sunday's election are landless farmers who are
calling for territories to be returned.
They hope their decades-long calls will finally be listened to by a new
Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez reports from Asuncion.
Enxet Indians take back their land 17 April 2013
Convicted fraudster Heribert Roedel bought up ancestral Enxet
territory in Paraguay and then evicted the Indians.
A group of Enxet Indians in western Paraguay have moved back to their
homeland after waiting for almost 20 years by the side of a highway for
their land to be officially returned to them.
The Enxet community of Sawhoyamaxa were thrown off their ancestral
territory in 1995 by Heribert Roedel, a German rancher who has become a
major landowner in the thick forests of western Paraguay.
Much of his fortune comes from a fraud committed against German members
of the public, who he persuaded to invest in land in Paraguay, in an area
now claimed by another Indian tribe, the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode. He
pretended to invest their money in improving the land but, instead,
pocketed the funds. Roedel was the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant
as a result.
Following years of neglect by the Paraguayan government, during which
nineteen members of the community reportedly died preventable deaths,
including several children, the Enxet of Sawhoyamaxa community took their
case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with the help of local
In 2006 the Court ruled that the government must hand over 12,000
hectares of land to the Indians a fraction of their original territory
within 3 years.
But the government has failed to uphold the courts order, and now the
community has decided to return to its ancestral land of its own accord,
despite the risk of being evicted once more.
Many Enxet families have been forces to live by the sides of roads in
makeshift housing for decades.
A member of the community has said, During these 20 years we have been
living along the side of a road, watching how cows occupy the land where
we used to live and where our parents lived. These lands are ours, and we
do not want to live any longer along the side of this road, witnessing
powerlessly the birth of our children and the deaths of our parents and
grandparents from this road.
Our culture, language and traditions are inextricably linked to this
land. Without it, we run the risk of disintegrating as a community.
Survival has previously supported Sawhoyamaxa and other Enxet communities
claiming title to their land. Many still struggle for survival, and live
displaced and forgotten by the Paraguayan state.
Paraguayan peasant leader shot dead
Vidal Vega was among last surviving leaders of peasant movement whose
land dispute led to president's downfall
Associated Press in Asunción - guardian.co.uk, Sunday 2 December 2012
Gunmen murdered one of the last surviving leaders of a peasant movement
in Paraguay whose land dispute with a politician prompted the end of
Fernando Lugo's presidency in June.
Vidal Vega, 48, was hit four times by bullets from a 12-gauge shotgun and
a .38-caliber revolver fired by two unidentified men who sped away on a
motorcycle, according to an official report.
A friend, Mario Espinola, said Vega was shot when he stepped outside to
feed his farm animals.
Vega was among the public faces of a commission of landless peasants from
the settlement of Yby Pyta, which means Red Dirt in their native Guarani
language. He had lobbied the government for many years to redistribute
some of the ranchland that the Colorado party senator Blas Riquelme began
occupying in the 1960s.
Last May the peasants finally lost patience and moved on to the land. A
firefight during their eviction on 15 June killed 11 peasants and six
police officers, prompting the Colorado party and other leading parties
to vote Lugo out of office for allegedly mismanaging the dispute.
Twelve suspects, nearly all of them peasants from Yby Pyta, have been
detained since then without formal charges, on suspicion of murdering the
officers, seizing property and resisting authority. The prosecutor had
six months to develop the case and will present his findings on 16
Vega had been expected to be a witness at the criminal trial, since he
was among the few leaders not killed in the clash or jailed afterwards.
He was not charged because he was away getting supplies when the violence
Riquelme, who died of natural causes about a month after the battle in
June, occupied the land during the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner,
whose government gave away land for free to anyone willing to put it to
productive use. A court in Curuguaty upheld Riquelme's claim to the land
years later. Lugo's government later sought to overturn the decision, but
the case remains tied up in court.
Guardian letters - suport for Lugo
We join the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela,
Ecuador and the Dominican Republic in condemning the removal of the
elected president, Fernando Lugo, in Paraguay, in a process widely
described as a political coup (Report, 22 June). President Lugo has
called his removal a blow against Paraguay's democracy and, although
accepting he is now out of office, has termed it an "express coup
d'etat". President Lugo was given just 24 hours to prepare a defence
against an impeachment instituted by a temporary rightwing majority in
parliament, using procedures the Lugo government has previously declared
illegal and unconstitutional. There have been reports of human rights
abuses from the new regime. Activists in the Paraguayan unions are
reporting that the military have fired at unarmed protesters. Tens of
thousands are protesting for the return of Lugo. International support is
Hugh O'Shaughnessy Author, The Priest of Paraguay
Professor Doreen Massey
Dr Francisco Dominguez Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies,
Colin Burgon Labour Friends of Venezuela and Venezuela Solidarity
Billy Hayes General secretary, CWU
Tony Burke Assistant general secretary, Unite the Union
Aaron Kiely Black students' officer (elect), National Union of
Paraguay presidential race sinks to new low amid corruption
Fraud allegations circling frontrunners Horacio Cartes and Efrain
Alegre do little to improve Paraguay's tarnished reputation
Jonathan Gilbert in Asunción and Jonathan Watts
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 April 2013 11.40 BST
Even by the historically dire standards of corruption in Latin America,
the two frontrunners in this weekend's presidential election in Paraguay
may well represent a new low.
In the far right is the favourite, Horacio Cartes, a homophobe who has
been jailed after accusations of currency fraud, investigated for alleged
tax evasion and widely accused of drug trafficking.
His main challenger, Efrain Alegre, meanwhile, is fighting off claims
that his centre-right Liberal party used millions of dollars in public
funds to buy an electoral alliance that gives him an outside chance of an
Unless there is a shock win for one of the other candidates all of whom
are far behind this political mud looks likely to stick on a government
that is something of a pariah in Latin America due to its long history of
counterfeiting and smuggling and the ousting last year of Fernando Lugo,
its first leftwing president in six decades.
An average of the most recent polls gave a six-point lead to Cartes, a
57-year-old tobacco grower standing as candidate for the Colorado
His popularity appears to have been barely dented by a recent homophobic
outburst he said he would rather shoot himself in the testicles than
accept a son who wanted to marry another man and revelations about his
shady history, including photographs of him in handcuffs in 1980 when he
was charged with currency fraud, a drug bust of a plane on his property,
and allegations in Argentina and Brazil that he is a major source of
illegal cigarettes in their countries.
"Narco-politics will reign" if Cartes wins, warns his ruling
party opponent, Alegre, who calls his rival "the maximum expression
of the smuggling, mafia and pirating model" of development.
Alegre's efforts to claim the moral high ground have been undermined
by reports that the government brought $11.5m of land from the father of
another political leader, Jorge Oviedo, days before entering an electoral
pact. Rather than face impeachment, Oviedo has resigned his post as
president of Congress.
This has been campaign gold for Cartes. "You can't keep handling
public money as if it were private," he taunted his rival "We
are going to put an end to that custom of robbery. It is what has
Voters may be disillusioned, but many say they will cast their ballots
according to old loyalties. "There's nobody clean in Paraguay,"
said Hugo Díaz, 77, a former farm administrator who plans to vote for
Alegre, but only because of family allegiances.
Supporters of the Colorado party the traditional party of landowners,
the elite and those in their patronage said they expected to see better
business prospects. The economy, which is dependent on soy exports and
the manufacture of fake goods, slumped into minus territory last year but
is forecast to achieve double-digit growth in 2013.
"Cartes was a successful businessman," said Carlos Acosta, 52,
a concierge who was listening to a campaign speech on the radio.
"There will be economic progress with him."
Acosta is one of nearly two million Colorado members, a support base that
is the result of "patronage and clientelism", said Peter
Lambert, a specialist in Paraguay at the University of Bath. "Access
to opportunity in Paraguay still comes from allegiance to the Colorado
party," he said.
Despite the strong whiff of corruption, the chances of smaller party
candidates such as Mario Ferreiro to make a breakthrough appear
José Morínigo, a pollster and former Lugo government official, gave
Alegre a 1.9 percentage-point lead over Cartes. "Money rules
here," he said. "It's more than likely the Liberal and Colorado
parties will buy votes. I see a limited possibility for a true
Will Paraguay's presidential election be a 'return to the past'?
Leading candidate Cartes is a member of the conservative Colorado
Party, which ruled Paraguay for 61 years, until 2008. Last year the
left-leaning president Lugo was impeached.
By Jonathan Gilbert, Correspondent / April 19, 2013
Mr. Cartes is a tobacco magnate who says he will modernize the Southern
Cone nation. He is standing for the Colorado Party, which held a grip on
power for 61 years before former President Fernando Lugo won elections in
2008. And with Mr. Lugo controversially impeached last year in what he
called a parliamentary coup a shift back to right-wing policies is
Cartes' closest contender is Efraín Alegre of the ruling Liberal Party.
He is promising a "happy" Paraguay a play on his surname by
tackling poverty. But, like Cartes, he is a conservative who observers
say will favor business.
While Paraguay is expected to grow by 10 percent this year due in large
part to soy and beef exports nearly a third of its people live below
the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Such inequality is highly
visible in Asunción, where sleek shopping malls contrast with slums that
line the River Paraguay. More than 80 percent of land is controlled by
two percent of the population, peasant movements here say. Cartes and
Alegre are expected to do little to change that, distancing Paraguay from
the left-wing models of regional neighbors Argentina, Bolivia, and
"Paraguay is facing a step backwards," says Asunción-based
political analyst Alfredo Boccia. "With both candidates we're
looking at an absence of the state in an almost feudal economic model
that responds to the interests of landowners and the elite. There will be
macroeconomic growth, but an accumulation of poverty."
'Reverses in social reforms'
Polls give Cartes a lead of a few percentage points over Mr. Alegre, with
Mario Ferreiro of left-wing coalition Avanza País a distant third. Many
people say they will vote for Cartes, a majority shareholder in more than
20 companies, because of his success in business. "He has [managed]
his companies well, which will bode well for him in government,"
says Eva Amarilla, an information technology student.
But it is precisely Cartes' pro-business attitude that is expected to
produce tensions if he wins. Lugo's ousting was provoked by the fatal
eviction of peasants from land claimed by a Colorado Party senator. With
Lugo's agrarian reform blocked in parliament by conservatives, Cartes
would favor landowning elites. "Cartes will clash with the
peasants," says José Morínigo, a pollster and former official in the
"The Colorado Party is not reformed," says Peter Lambert, a
Paraguay specialist at the University of Bath in the UK. "With
Cartes we can expect high levels of land and social inequality, and
low-quality democracy with a politicization of the judiciary."
Alegre also has the support of the private sector. Environmental groups
say that the Liberal Party post-Lugo has allowed multinationals to
fast-track new strains of genetically modified crops, fiercely opposed by