ASUNCION – More than a thousand farmers marched in the Paraguayan capital on Tuesday to pressure the government into writing off $34 million in debt owed by rural smallholders to both public and private institutions.
On the eighth day of an occupation in the plaza facing Congress, the farmers mounted a procession through central Asuncion in support of a Senate bill aimed at addressing their demands, peasant activist Esther Leiva told EFE.
“It is the responsibility of the Paraguayan state to assume the debt and to look at how we will reorganize family agriculture,” she said.
As the march was taking place, peasant representatives met with Senate chief Fernando Lugo, Agriculture Minister Juan Carlos Baruja and Finance Minister Lea Gimenez.
The discussion did not produce agreement and Gimenez told reporters afterward that the Finance Ministry didn’t have the money to liquidate the farmers’ debts.
The debt question brought thousands of farmers to Asuncion in April 2016. They remained in the capital for nearly a month, agreeing to go home only after the government promised to establish a refinancing mechanism.
But according to Leiva, that mechanism was never created.
“Last year we came to Asuncion for 23 days of struggle and there was a commitment. It doesn’t work, there is an accord and it ended there. So we came back to demand that the signed accord be fulfilled,” she said.
The organizations behind the current mobilization hope the Senate will convene a special session to approve the debt-forgiveness bill as part of an emergency initiative to aid Paraguay’s struggling family farmers.
Paraguay has come to rely on imports for more than 50 percent of its food, in part because much of the poor, landlocked nation’s arable land has been planted with soy intended for export.
The country’s 2.5 million peasants make up 35 percent of the population, the highest proportion in South America, while 90 percent of rural land is held by less than 5 percent of proprietors.