Paraguay: villagers demand Moonie land

As we recently noted, Paraguay is currently seeing an upsurge of peasant and popular unrest—just as the US has established a new military presence there (ostensibly aimed at chasing down Islamic militants who have supposedly established the country as a base of operations). This report from Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24, gives a picture of what kinds of landed interests Paraguay’s peasants are facing:

Some 400 residents of the Paraguayan community of Puerto Casado, near the border with the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, arrived in Asuncion on July 19 after walking 150 kilometers to demand that the government expropriate lands owned by the World Unification Church, the sect founded by Korean businessperson and reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Four years ago, the church’s Victoria company bought Puerto Casado’s 700,000 hectares of land for $300 million from the company of Argentine businessperson Carlos Casado, who had bought them from the Paraguayan state at the end of the 19th century and used them for logging and livestock. The lands have been idle since the 1970s due to deforestation. In October 2003, residents of Puerto Casado briefly occupied Victoria’s offices, apparently to demand that the government confiscate the company and hand it over to the workers.

The residents of Puerto Casado are asking Congress to expropriate 52,000 hectares of the land so they can carry out agricultural and livestock projects. “The Moon sect owns a vast unproductive landed estate while the 7,000 residents of the village of Casado are living in poverty because the land on which they were born and live doesn’t belong to them,” said Francisco Dick, president of the ProTierra commission. “Moon’s employees promised four years ago that they would develop productive and tourism-generating projects but up to now they have done nothing; we believe their objective is purely speculative,” added Dick.

“The expropriation will take place regardless, because in fact, the Moon sect owns 700,000 hectares of idle land; within two weeks Congress will analyze the issue once we receive a detailed report on those lands,” explained Senator Carlos Filizzola, president of Paraguay’s Congress. Erico Ibanez, director of the government’s Institute of Rural Development (Inder), said President Nicanor Duarte has approved the expropriation, but warned that the government has no resources to pay for it. “Therefore, we must seek financing,” said Ibanez.

Lorenzo Myung, manager of the Moon sect’s Victoria company, told journalists that the residents’ poverty will increase if the expropriation takes place. “What can those people do with so much land?” he asked. “In the beginning we were going to give them land but these villagers want precisely the lands where we are thinking of later on developing our most productive projects,” added Myung. “Our prophet, the reverend Moon, wants to buy three million hectares in Paraguay but with these problems he won’t do it.” (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, July 19, 20, both from AP) [More at Reuters, July 18]

  1. New US military contingent arrives
    The July 31 Weekly News Update on the Americas notes the arrival of more US troops in Paraguay:


    A new contingent of 45 US soldiers arrived on July 24 in Paraguay. In Ciudad del Este, on the triple border with Argentina and Brazil, social organizations held a protest march against the US troop presence. The Paraguayan government says the US troops have come “to cooperate in public health works” and are currently carrying out such projects in the areas of Yasy Kany, Ygatymi and Curuguaty, in Canindeyu department, where they will remain until Aug. 3. The troops are from the 156th Medical Unit of the Puerto Rico National Guard. Orlando Castillo of the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) urged Paraguayans to avoid any contact with the soldiers–especially when the soldiers are drinking. The soldiers have total immunity from prosecution in Paraguay. Castillo said the US seeks to maintain a military base in Paraguay and control natural resources like the Guarani aquifer.

    On July 27, Paraguay’s general director of immigration, Carlos Lisera, announced that everyone entering or leaving the country will be photographed and fingerprinted. Humanitarian groups denounced the move as “one of the first serious consequences” of the arrival of the US troops. The new measures are apparently financed with a $650,000 contribution from South Korea. (Resumen Latinoamericano, July 26 from Pulsar/Jakueke, July 28/05 from Stella Calloni)