Four environmental defenders criminalised in Paraguay
On 11th May 2019, Pelagio Santacruz, leader of the Santa Librada settlement and member of the Coordinadora de Trabajadores Campesinos y Urbanos (Coordination of Peasants and Urban Workers - CTCU), was shot twice in front of his home. He was taken to Caazapá Regional Hospital in a serious condition. In a statement, CTCU claimed that the attack was linked to land conflict in the region. Santa Librada is a 3000 hectare settlement in the Caazapá department, inhabited by around 200 peasant families.
Mariela López, Celina Aguilar, Sonia Fretes y Graciela Silva se opusieron a una fumigación ilegal. La Fiscalía en vez de investigar el posible delito ambiental, las imputó a ellas por una denuncia sin pruebas #DíaMundialDelMedioAmbiente pic.twitter.com/PQffWp3p7j— El Surtidor (@elsurti) June 5, 2019
In a separate development, in May 2019 the Paraguayan Human Rights Coordination (CODEHUPY) launched a campaign to denounce the criminalisation of four environmental defenders in the Capiibary district, San Pedro department. The Coordination disclosed that four women, Mariela López, Celina Aguilar, Sonia Fretes and Graciela Silva, are being prosecuted for protesting against illegal agrochemical fumigation in soy fields near the Mariscal López community. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has indicted them for various offences and is asking for their arrest. The campaign “Se trata de vida o muerte” (“It is about life or death”) highlights the women’s fight against use of agrochemicals which contaminate local water sources and impair the local population’s health. Since 2017, Capiibary has a municipal resolution prohibiting fumigation with such pesticides.
On 21st March 2019, around 5,000 Paraguayan peasants, farm workers, agricultural workers and indigenous people participated in the 26th annual Peasant March in Asunción. The march was organised by the Federación Nacional Campesina (National Peasant Federation - FNC), with the slogan “Land and production for national development, building people’s power”. Land reform is one of the movement’s key demands. Land distribution is a key problem in the country, where 90% of the land is in the hands of 5% of landowners according to data from Oxfam.
In a related development, from October 2018 to March 2019, the Tacuara’i community occupied a public square in central Asunción to demand support from the authorities in recovering their ancestral land. The Tacuara'i community, of the Ava Guaraní Chiripá people, was displaced from their territory in the 1980s during the Stroessner dictatorship. Recent attempts to recover their land reportedly resulted in violent evictions. Uniting with peasant movement Coordinadora Nacional Intersectorial (National Intersectoral Coordination - CNI), the community signed an agreement with the government on 28th March 2019. In the agreement, authorities promised to seek solutions to Tacuara'i demands.
However, in May 2019, the community announced they would resume demonstrations as the government had not followed through with its commitments. According to leader Claricia González, Mario Abdo’s government “promised to restore the lands to the Tacuara’i, but until today there are no results. We come and go, but he does not comply with us, that is why we are mobilising again to demand compliance with the points agreed upon”.