Paraguay: campesino protest repressed

On Feb. 7, some 20,000 Paraguayan campesinos held protests at 10 sites around the country as part of a national mobilization to draw attention to the low income they receive from agricultural production and to demand solutions to their plight. The protests were organized by the National Campesino Federation (FNC), which said they would continue throughout the week. “For now we will only do brief road blockades in the departments of San Pedro, Guaira, Caaguazu, Paraguari and Concepcion, among others, to get attention,” said FNC general secretary Odilon Espinola. Heavy rains dampened turnout in some areas, according to Espinola.

Some 200 police agents were deployed to disperse a group of about 3,000 campesino protesters who were blocking an intersection at Cruce Tacuara, near the town of San Estanislao. The agents used rubber bullets; about 40 people were injured. Prosecutor Lilian Ruiz, who ordered the police action, said 22 campesinos and 12 police agents were treated at a local hospital. One press report said 11 police agents and 27 campesinos were injured. Ruiz told reporters that the campesinos were wounded by rubber bullets and the agents were beaten with sticks. Only one person was seriously injured and had to remain in the hospital, according to Ruiz; the others were treated and released. Ruiz suggested the campesinos would be jailed as soon as their injuries were treated. Ruiz said another incident took place outside the hospital, where a campesino leader tried to free his comrades.

The Paraguayan government sets the price of cotton by decree. The current price is 1,500 guaranies ($0.29), plus a subsidy of 200 guaranies ($0.04), per kilogram of cotton. The campesinos are demanding 2,000 guaranies ($0.40) per kilo. Agriculture and Ranching Minister Ricardo Garay resigned his post in January because of discrepancies with President Nicanor Duarte over the subsidy. The new agriculture minister, Alfredo Molinas, announced that Duarte had “ordered that we take resources from the general spending budget to give a bonus to the growers counted by the National Campesino Federation, consisting of 200,000 guaranies ($37) for each hectare cultivated, along with a packet of seeds and pesticides to be distributed in April.” (Adital, Feb. 8; TV Azteca, Feb. 7 from Fuerza Informativa Azteca; Reuters, Feb. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 11

See our last post on Paraguay.