On the occasion of International Human Rights Day, FIAN International joins FIAN Paraguay and FIAN Germany in calling for an end to violent forced evictions and harassment of peasants and indigenous communities across Paraguay.
According to Paraguayan research group BASE Investigaciones Sociales, at least 3,000 people from peasant and indigenous communities have been violently evicted in nine seperate cases across the country since September this year.
In most cases, the evictions were violent, with excessive numbers of security forces acting outside the law, without court orders. In many cases the belongings of the affected families were destroyed.
The communities facing these evictions mostly have decades-long roots in the areas they occupy, and to which they are legally entitled under Paraguay’s Agrarian Reform. Their claims are challenged by Paraguayan landowners who run large scale agribusinesses on the land, contributing to the country’s acute hunger and malnutrition problem. According to the FAO, 700,000 people in Paraguay were suffering from malnutrition in 2020.
"The underlying problem behind these evictions is the concentration of land in the hands of a few. Paraguay is Latin America’s most unequal country in terms of access to land. 90% of the land is in the hands of less than 5% of the population,” says Wilma Strothenke, FIAN International's Country Officer for Paraguay.
The disputed land was illegally acquired by large landowners and widely referred to as “tierras malhabidas” (ill-gotten lands). It was meant to be transferred to peasants and indigenous people as agrarian reform beneficiaries during the Stroessner dictatorship which ruled the country for three decades until 1989. Instead the land was illegally awarded to private actors close to the regime.
Today there are still eight million hectares of tierras malhabidas.
Increased criminalization against peasants and indigenous people
This latest wave of forced evictions coincides with the recent adoption of the so-called Zavala-Riera Law, which reforms Paraguay’s penal code to include harsher penalties for land occupation. This law is being used as another instrument to criminalize the struggle for land under the guise of protecting private property.
Abel Areco, from FIAN Paraguay, points out: "There is an imbalance in the management of the state, since without guaranteeing the basic rights of access to land, it is passing laws that can end up being misapplied to criminalize those who claim their land rights".
The community of the María la Esperanza Settlement in Tava'i, Caazapá, is one of the first to be targeted by the criminalizing application of this law. This community returned to occupy land from which they had been expelled after verifying that there was in fact no eviction order against them. However, shortly after, 26 settlers and the community's own lawyer were detained and now face prosecution for trespassing, despite the fact that they have lived there for decades and that authorities recognise them as a de facto community.
The case of the Primero de Marzo community: evictions, criminalization and denial of expropriation
Another example of the increase in criminalization and evictions is the Primero de Marzo peasant community, whose members have been occupying the Pindó farm in the department of Canindeyú (near the Brazilian border) since 2012, as legitimate beneficiaries of the Agrarian Reform.
The Pindó farm is registered as the property of the Bendlin Beyersdoff family of businessmen, who acquired it from the Institute of Rural Assets (IBR) in 1969 in exchange for an airplane, an illegal operation according to the rules of the time, which makes this farm a “tierra malhabida”, as accredited by the Final Report of the Truth and Justice Commission.
Since their settlement on the Pindó Farm, the inhabitants of the Primero de Marzo community have been questioning the legal origin of the farm and requesting that Paraguayan authorities expropriate it for adjudication, in compliance with the agrarian reform. However, the inaction of the National Institute for Rural and Land Development (INDERT) and the refusal of the owners of the farm have prevented the community's right to land from being respected.
There are currently 430 families occupying the farm. They cultivate their gardens, raise animals and have built houses and other facilities including sewage, electricity systems, schools and so on. However, they face continuous threats of forced eviction by public and private authorities. This situation is not new as they were also subjected to numerous forced evictions between 2013 and 2016 when their houses, facilities and crops were razed and several members convicted.
FIAN International in collaboration with FIAN Paraguay and FIAN Germany has launched an open letter to alert Paraguayan authorities about the constant threats of forced evictions to which the families of the Primero de Marzo Community are subjected.
"If these threats are carried out, not only would they be violating national and international norms that protect the right to land of indigenous and peasant communities,” says Almudena Abascal, Head of Latin America for FIAN Germany, “but also their basic human rights such as the right to food, education and decent housing. "
More information about the evicted communities:
- Comunidad Campesina Cristo Rey, San Pedro, Guayaiví (27-10-2021), 70 families in the street: https://www.facebook.com/portaldCuruguaty/posts/3112421202347553
- Indigenous Community of the Mbyá Guaraní People, Caazapá, Abaí (27-10-2021), number of families in the street sd.: https://www.facebook.com/radiosucesofm/posts/3050200665198660
- Itapúa, Mayor Otaño (26-10-2021), number of family in the street sd.: https://www.facebook.com/gabriel.caballerobenitez/posts/4382746565154796
- Edilson Mercao peasant community, Canindeyú, Yasy Cañy (2-11-2021), 300 people in the street sd.: https://www.facebook.com/103068404699719/videos/418068159951580/
- Ka`a Poty Indigenous Community, Alto Paraná, Itakyry (4-11-2021), 30 families on the street: https://adelantenoticias.com/2021/11/04/giuzzio-desalojakaa-poty/
- Peasant community María la Esperanza, Caazapá, Tava`i (11-11-2021), 10 families in the street: https://www.baseis.org.py/otro-desalojo-esta-vez-en-caazapa/
- Hugua Po`i Indigenous Community, Caaguazú (18-11-2021), 70 families in the street: https://www.facebook.com/ONAI.PARAGUAY/videos/672439193745337
- Rural community 26 de Febrero, San Pedro, Capiibary (23-11-2021), number of families affected sd.: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=search&v=426075785814126
- Peasant community 29 de Junio, San Vicente Pancholo, San Pedro (1-12-2021), organizations stop eviction and reoccupy settlement: https://twitter.com/OLT_Paraguay/status/1466010613570752515