ASUNCION – Thousands of small-scale farmers occupied several squares in the Paraguayan capital on Tuesday to demand that the government follow through on a 15-month-old commitment to refinance their debts.
Trucks and buses loaded with farmers from Paraguay’s interior pulled up at the plazas opposite Congress, national police headquarters and Asuncion cathedral.
Some 25,000 people are taking part in the protest, the director of the Peasant and Urban Workers Coordinating committee, Esther Leiva, told EFE, though police said the number was closer to 5,000.
The chief demand of the protesters is forgiveness of loans taken out to purchase seed and other farming supplies.
“If the production doesn’t materialize due to some problem, how are we going to pay? If we don’t have the possibility of assuming the burden, the state must take a look and must provide the possibility and the opportunity to the small producers and the peasants,” Leiva said.
Organizers are calculating the total amount of debt at issue so they can present an exact figure to the government, she said.
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.
The mechanism was never created, Leiva said.
“We say there is a failure to comply by the government because there was an accord signed here that clearly is not being fulfilled,” she said. “That’s why we have come back again. To come to Asuncion it has to be for a serious thing.”
She went on to describe a “crisis in family farming” in Paraguay as a result of the growing dominance of the “agribusiness model.”
The country 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.
Paraguay’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.