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  •  Soy fields surround the small farm run by Geronimo Arevalos, and his crops are affected by the plane-spread herbicides dropped on to the soy.

    Soy fields surround the small farm run by Geronimo Arevalos, and his crops are affected by the plane-spread herbicides dropped on to the soy. | Photo: Photograph: Vicki Hird/ Friends of the Earth

Published 22 May 2019

The four women are being accused of eight crimes, including aggravated robbery, possession of weapons, and attempted homicide.

Four Paraguayan Campesinos are in danger of being sentenced to preventative detention in a case where they, along with 30 other Campesinos, protested the planting of soy crops in their area of eastern Paraguay.

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The Coordinator of Human Rights of Paraguay (Codehupy), which is on the four women's defense, asserts that the Prosecutor's Office is "criminalizing people for defending a healthy environment," said defense attorney Sonia von Lepel.

The opposition to the soy plantation on land rented by Brazilian soy croppers in the community of Mariscal Lopez in the district of Capiibary, began about five years ago when the inhabitants refused to accept the cultivation of soy, as well as the agro-toxins that come with it.

Soybean production has become a huge industry in Paraguay where last year it was projected to surpass the exports of its neighbor, Argentina, for the first time. 

According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the scale of this industry has had social impacts in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, "where the concentration of farmland in the hands of a few has pushed small farmers and communities off the land and encouraged exploitation of workers." 

"Around the world, agrochemicals and fertilizers are used to efficiently manage soybean farms of increasing size and to reduce labor costs as production expands into areas with insufficient labor. These chemicals are a major source of nutrient pollution in rivers, lakes and estuaries."

"They are small communities and soy plantations are not viable. You cannot put a containment strip (to fumigate), it affects the animals, the water resources ... and in front of that is the school and the health center," said the lawyer.

During the protests, locals threw gasoline on the tractor of one of the plantation workers, but deny that they were armed or made any attempts on the lives of workers, according to Von Lepel.

The four women are being accused of eight crimes, including aggravated robbery, possession of weapons and attempted homicide.

For Von Lepel, the case is about "unsubstantiated criminal offenses and a generic accusation," and maintains that the Prosecutor's case lacks "evidentiary elements" against the Campesinos.

The defense asked the Public Prosecutor's Office to change the category, to "remove the crime but keep the offense," which would imply the dismissal, among others, of the charge of attempted homicide.

However, the petition was rejected and is now in the appeal phase.

The process against the Campesinos began in November 2018 when an arrest warrant was issued on them, according to her lawyer's statements.

"They were fugitives for six months because the first steps of the Public Prosecutor's Office were to capture them and they went to live in the mountains," said Von Lepel.

That order was lifted later and the women, all over 30 years old, were able to return to their homes.

The four Campesinos await the court’s provisional decision at their hearing on June 17 and at which preventive detention could be ordered.

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