A Coup Over Land: The Resource War Behind Paraguay’s Crisis
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Barrientos said the pesticides affected her plants and animals as well, making some of the crops that do actually grow taste too bitter to eat. Her pigs’ newborn babies died, and the chickens were ill. Part of the problem, she pointed out, is that the Brazilian soy farmers intentionally choose to fumigate during strong winds which blow the poison onto her land. We passed dead corn stalks on the way to her well, which she insisted on showing us. It was located at the end of a long field of soy, so that the runoff from the field dripped into the well, concentrating the pesticides in her only water source. The family lives in a poisoned misery, while the soy producer responsible for it lives in comparative luxury away from his fields.
Isabel Rivas, a neighbor of Barrientos’ with a big smile and loud laugh in spite of her grim living situation, told us, “When we drink the water we can smell the chemicals. It turns out they were washing the chemical sprayers in our source of water, in a little stream nearby.” Barrientos stood in front of her house while breastfeeding her baby as chickens pecked at peanuts in the yard. Her children stared at us with wide eyes. “We can’t go anywhere else.”
While Lugo’s inability and unwillingness to sufficiently address such hardships was a betrayal of this grassroots sector, the recent coup against Lugo was also a coup against hope, a coup against Barrientos and her children, Roas and her neighbors, and the hundreds of thousands of farmers struggling the countryside. Behind this coup lies the vast land, some of it poisoned, some still fertile, and much of it tear and blood-soaked. Until the demand of land justice is realized, there will be no peace in Paraguay, regardless of who sleeps in the presidential palace.
Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press, 2007). He is also the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, which covers activism and politics in Latin America. Email BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.