Thousands of Paraguayan campesinos poured into streets across the country Monday to protest conservative President Horacio Cartes failure to provide small farmers with debt relief and his installation of a neoliberal economic agenda that is reminiscent of the South American country's dictatorship era.
The national mobilization is set to unite in the capital of Asuncion Tuesday, repeating a similar broad-based action that rocked the city in April.
Demonstrators demands debt forgiveness, particularly in rural areas, for strugglnig small and medium-sized producers. Marches raised the same demand in April, forcing the government to sign an agreement with the National Intersector Coordinator, also known as CNI, the coalition behind the protests. But campesinos say the Cartes administration has failed to follow through on its promises.
The full list of agreements includes 12 points with which campesinos, labor unions, and social organizations have urged the government to comply.
In a joint statement Monday, CNI and the Union of Producers of Paraguay condemned repression against social movements, which has been on the rise under Cartes’ government. The organizations slammed the “dangerous path of persecuting all social struggle” for creating a perfect storm to further bulldoze human rights and worsen the rural crisis suffered in the countryside.
The organizations pointed to three cases of land settlement evictions in the last two weeks alone to highlight the government’s disregard for campesinos’ demands and the hardships of farming families. “The government is present,” they wrote. “But not to guarantee access to land, health, and education but to repress and criminalize.”
Campesino and labor leaders warned that Paraguay’s neoliberal policies, threatening to worsen inequality, harken back to the suffering in the country under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989. They raised alarm over a “resurgence” of Stroessner’s ideology, accusing Cartes of promoting the rollback while allowing the Paraguayan state to be influenced by drug trafficking interests.
Campesino movements have been a key political force in Paraguay in the wake of the 2012 “parliamentary coup” that ousted former President Fernando Lugo from power. Rural organizations have organized a series of national marches in recent years to demand Cartes’ resignation and an end to neoliberal policies that hit small farmers hard.
Paraguay is home to one of the most unequal distributions of land in Latin America, consolidated both during the dictatorship and years of pro-agribusiness policies. Campesinos have long demanded comprehensive agrarian reform as a key part of the solution to problems plaguing the countryside.