Paraguay: The campesina struggle creates a new threshold

The obstinate tenacity of the campesinos meant they managed to reach the presidential residence, in order to negotiate equal to equal.

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Without much pomp, without grandiose announcements, like a crowd emerging from shadows, a mass of campesinos inserted themselves into an Asuncion absorbed in its meagre routine.  The people of Asunción awoke on Monday, April 4, 2016, with an unexpected gust of wind, a sudden torrent that grew as the hours advanced. The city´s traffic began to face the first jams. The bewildered Asuncionians felt their space being taken over by those who were supposed to always have remained invisible. So much so that their existence had no place in their extremely narrow horizon. The surprise for some was that we are in April, so it couldn´t be the usual march that takes place in March of each year. In any event, no one imagined that the new campesino presence would reach the size and tenacity that was soon to occur.


When the character of this struggle began to express its clear and precise proposals, without the general slogans to which we had been accustomed in previous marches; and above all, when it became evident that there was an unequivocal and obstinate intention in the spirit of the group to stay put as long as necessary till they could achieve the results that motivated them, the hysterical outcries of the Paraguayan private press became heard. It was a choir singing in monotonous unison, with the scant creativity that characterizes them. Lacking adjectives they scavenged them from wherever they could, to unfurl their yellow journalism, scorning and disparaging the presence of those who needed once and for all to make themselves heard. Rarely in our existence as citizens, and above in the urban context, have we felt so much racism in our country. The experience served to visibilize all the wretchedness that our creole private press is capable of, expressed with the voice and the pens of their main figures.


No! This was intolerable! How could these "lazy" and "shameless" "delinquents", "criminals" and "misfits", attempt to block our healthy and unpolluted daily life, disrespecting the rights of others.


But who are these so-called "others"? What principals underlie this imaginary category that attempts to separate us from an enormous segment of our society that lives in extreme poverty and which sooner rather than later we must consider if we do not want it to explode unavoidably; for they are a part of the society in which we live and which is supposedly organized politically to constitute the State. Nothing justifies the indefinite relegating of millions of compatriots who suffer exclusion as a consequence of the abuses of an oligarchy of big landowners and bankers in an obscene and ancestral concentration of land.


The "others" who hold dominion over the media oligopoly impose the pattern of opinion on the many "others", unwary and honest employees in the melting pot of classes, who are limited to reproducing the epithets generated by the media factory. "These lazy brutes don’t let us work", "debts have to be paid", "I’d like to see my debts wiped out too". Repeated refrains of the mediocre street criers who call themselves journalists. But these servants of big media capital won’t mention, -not because they don't know, but due to their submission to their bosses-, that not all of them pay their accounts. Not only in the case of the Iturbe Sugar Factory and the transport Company, about which much has been reported. They do not say anything about how those who make up the privileged class that now subjugates the peasantry came to accumulate their wealth. How they got hold of the great expanses of land destined to the cultivation of soybeans, that after their ruthless and contaminating expansion, expelling campesinos who are forced to expand the poverty belt in the city, and attempt to survive with various resources, "infesting" the air of the "others".


A struggle is justified when it gets results


But supporting all the ill-treatment, sleeping on the ground of a public square, marching and putting up with insults, the campesino struggle lasted no less than 23 days. This was a tenacity that hadn't been seen for decades in our country. From the presidential insult of calling them "shameless", to the indifference of the high government officials, the obstinate tenacity of the campesinos meant they managed to reach the presidential residence, in order to negotiate equal to equal with them. Ministers, presidents of the Central Bank and Development Bank, the secretary of Indert and other hierarchs of the governmental apparatus were forced to be at the negotiating table, even though it smarted.


The real motive of the struggle 


It is necessary to clarify to those who sought to nullify the campesino struggle, and continue to do so, that what really motivated the struggle was the preservation of the lands of a large number of small campesino producers who were at the point of losing them, since they had outstanding debts, due to the impossibility of paying due to the accumulation of interest on contracted loans. If this was the motive, in the end, the writing off of the debt became an accessory question. With the agreement reached through the struggle, if it is fulfilled, this campesino struggle was without doubt justified. Quite simply because it was a struggle with results. And the fundamental result, without doubt, is the preservation of what for the small rural producer is essential: land. Land that was coveted by the voracious and historical land vultures in our country. Those who in this way have been concentrating land to the detriment of the poor campesinos were left high and dry, once the campesinos won the liberation of interest on their debts and refinancing over 10 years at accessible rates, with two years grace.


Today, as inhabitants of the metropolitan area of Asunción, we can say without hesitation, that this campesino march was an example for all Paraguayan citizens. It was a lesson from those who were at the limit of survival, pressed by their urgent need to live, who overcame all the ignominious barriers set up by the media that attempted as far as possible to maintain the status quo.  I believe that we must recognize that an important sector of our population was saved from this siege of the oligopolistic media, by the heroic and unequal struggle undertaken by alternative media.


Today we can say that we are beginning a new chapter in our history, We can speak in terms of before and after this struggle.


This new chapter is welcome, it will open a new pathway in the struggles to come for a more equitable order in Paraguay.



(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)


- Carlos Verón De Astrada, lawyer and economist, is a member of the Secretariat of Internacional Relations of the Frente Guasu.
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