In the latest spate of violent repression linked to heated land conflicts in Paraguay, police cracked down Tuesday on a group of displaced campesinos who were occupying disputed lands, arresting at least 12 and injuring several more, local media reported.
According to social leaders, heavily-armed police unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets on the community in an attempt to evict the campesinos who have been living in makeshift tents to occupy the land they lay claim to in the Guahory area of Tembiapora, located about 120 miles east of the capital city Asuncion.
Clashes between police and campesinos left some 20 people injured, including 13 campesinos and seven police officers, while eight men and four women were detained, local media reported. Community members accused security forces of acting without a warrant and repressing and detaining minors.
The campesinos — who were previously evicted in a move they say was aimed at clearing the way for the expansion of industrial agriculture, particularly genetically-modified soy crops for exports — have blamed President Horacio Cartes and his government’s neoliberal policies for fomenting a crisis in the countryside and spurring systematic repression of land rights movements.
“If there are deaths in Guahory, 20,000 campesinos will occupy Asuncion in the coming days to demand Horacio Cartes’ renunciation,” warned National Campesino Federation leader Marcial Gomez.
A 1,200-strong police force evicted 200 campesino families from Guahory last September.
The disputed lands are now being farmed by so-called settlers of Brazilian descent, who the Paraguayan campesinos argue took over the land illegally. According to local media, campesinos had tried to block the current occupiers of the land from working in the fields by threatening an attack, but none of the so-called settlers were injured.
Campesinos have been in negotiations to resolve the dispute with Paraguay’s National Institute of Rural Development and Land, known as Indert, which has admitted that a portion of the lands in question were handed over irregularly. But Indert’s president has also accused the Guahory case of being politicized to spur a crisis.
Paraguay’s campesino organizations have fought for over two decades for justice in the face of one of the most unequal distributions of land in Latin America.
The movement has long struggled for land access, agrarian reform and structural change to the export agricultural model that has led to the vast expansion of soy monocultures in rural areas, home to almost half of Paraguay’s population.
Campesino movements have also been an important political force in the wake of the 2012 “parliamentary coup” that ousted former President Fernando Lugo by organizing a series of national marches to demand the resignation of neoliberal President Cartes.