By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
ÑACUNDAY, PARAGUAY – Tensions have reached boiling point in a landownership dispute between landless Paraguayans and Brazilian-born farmers, known locally as “Brasiguayos”, who operate farmland in the agricultural community of Ñacunday in the Alto Paraná department of eastern Paraguay. Those seeking the “foreign” farmers’ eviction believe the land is being illegally occupied and should be redistributed to locals.
The group of landless Paraguayans, the self-styled “Сarperos” (“tent-dwellers”), say that documentation which claims the Brazilian-born farmers own the land is false, despite them having long settled in the region.
The protests started in 2011, putting the inequality of Paraguay’s land distribution back in the spotlight, and prompting calls for a revision of national landownership laws. In December Police were alerted to two Brazilian-owned farms which the Carperos had occupied.
At the center of the dispute is an area of 167,000 hectares (about 645 square miles) of public land, which borders both Brazil’s Paraná state and northern Argentina. It has been a regular scene of disputes, and in the past weeks Brasiguayo farmers have been ramping up security on their properties as tensions mount.
The Carperos have asked the government to intervene and order local police and the army, who have been drafted in to regulate the conflict, to reclaim the land. In spite of initial delays, some political movement has now been set in motion. Earlier this week, President Lugo was meeting with authorities in the capital Asunción, in an attempt to find a solution to the situation.
But Carpero leader Fidel Zavala criticized the president for his “woeful management” of the situation and, despite the group’s promises of “not wanting violence”, warned that “the authorities would be responsible for any serious incident that might happen”.
“The case is alarming and impacts negatively on political, social and economic life of the country, polarizing and eroding the industry, when we should all be working together to overcome the [financial] crisis and pull Paraguay out of stagnation and poverty,” Zavala told Paraguay’s Última Hora newspaper.
For the Carperos, enemy number one is Brasiguayo soya farmer Tranquilo Favero, who operates some 530 hectares (1,310 acres) of land. A naturalized Paraguayan for over twenty years, like most of the farmers, he told O Globo newspaper that he has invested US$50 million in the country in the forty years he has spent there, and labeled the Carperos “troublemakers”.
Media agency Prensa Latina says Paraguay has the worst land distribution record in Latin America, with just 500 families owning ninety percent of the country’s land which was wrongly distributed in the 1950s, including Ñacunday.
Although the case has not yet led to a spat between Brazil and Paraguay, land disputes have blighted in the two nations’ history. The infamous Paraguayan War (or War of the Triple Alliance) in the 1860s, which pitted Paraguay against the Brazil-Uruguay-Argentina alliance, decimated Paraguay’s male population, and lost the country vast tracts of land.
More recently, frosty relations due to a long-running dispute over the enormous hydroelectric dam at Itaipu, which straddles the border between the two countries, were thawed when Brazil’s President Lula agreed to triple energy payments.
Although Brazil footed most of the bill for the building costs of the joint project, Paraguay only uses a tiny proportion of the energy used, and Brazil had forced Paraguay to sell its energy surplus back to Brazil for very low prices.
Currently Paraguayans make up one of the largest groups of immigrants into Brazil.
Brazil’s own Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) suffered a spate of murders last year, including that of Amazon leader Valdemar Oliveira Barbosa. Hundreds of other rural activists have been killed in Brazil in the last twenty years.