Farmers from across Paraguay arrived in the capital Asuncion today to demand agrarian reform.
The National Federation of Farmers, the organizing group, demands that the reform satisfy the needs of around 300,000 people, including access to land, guaranteed nourishment, raw materials for farming and sources of work.
The NFF also renounced Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, who they say is responsible for selling their land and natural resources to foreign companies, as well as violent oppression against farmers who protested these moves.
Today marks the 23rd March of the Impoverished Farmers for a Patriotic and Independent Government. The agricultural workers traveled from near and far, some in uncovered trucks similar to those used to transport cattle, to demonstrate in the Paraguayan capital.
Cartes is from the center-right Colorado Party, and encourages free trade and other neoliberal policies. He also has a controversial history. He has been linked to contraband and money-laundering, especially in the 1980s, when he served a prison term. A U.S. diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks referred to him as a “so-called pillar of the (money-laundering) community," and cited the then head of anti-money laundering office Hugo Ibarra, saying that Cartes' bank was responsible for 80 percent of the money laundering.
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Land distribution in Paraguay is extremely unequal, leading the people to form at least two armed groups who aim to fight for equal access to land. The Army of the Paraguayan People was formed in 2008, and in 2014 a splinter group named the Armed Farmer's Group, based on the tactics of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, announced its creation.
Cartes declared war on the EPP soon after taking office in 2013, and has since sold many hectares of land covered in soybean crops to multinational corporations. A quarter of Paraguay's labor force earns its living in agriculture.
Independent non-governmental organization, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, claimed in a November 2015 report that "incidents are increasing with private guards and police forcibly removing farmers who refuse to vacate lands claimed by corporate entities ... and President Horacio Cartes’ strong-arm approach (has) failed to resolve the situation."