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Paraguay land tussle intensifies

By James Painter
BBC Latin America analyst

Around 200 farmers invaded a private farm in Concepcion 12/12/2008
Peasant farmers have stepped up land invasions in recent weeks

Paraguay's large landowners are organising a second day of protests against an increase in land invasions by peasant farmers in recent weeks.

The protesters are parking their tractors and farm machinery along main roads in several parts of the country.

Tensions have risen in the countryside since centre-left President Fernando Lugo took office in August, promising land reform.

Under 2% of landowners are said to control 70% of the arable land.

The highly unequal distribution has always been a simmering point of tension in Paraguay.

Conflicts have increased since the mid-1990s in part because tens of thousands of Brazilian farmers - known as Brasiguayos - have moved into border regions to take advantage of the growing international demand for soya, particularly from China.

Paraguay is now the world's fourth largest exporter of soya.

Government dilemma

Since Mr Lugo, a former bishop, took office in August, peasant farmers - most of whom are short of land or landless - have stepped up their protests and land invasions.

Map
In some cases, soya plantations owned by Brazilians have been taken over, machinery set on fire and Brazilian flags burnt in protest.

The peasant farmers are hoping to put pressure on the new president to push ahead with his promise of a land reform.

But now the landowners are flexing their political muscle, saying they are fed up with the threats and the violence, and want the government to do something.

It is a difficult dilemma for the president as agricultural production is the largest component of Paraguay's economy.

So far, Mr Lugo has said he will respect private property and will first carry out an inventory of who exactly owns what land.

But such an inventory is both costly and time consuming and the patience of both sides is wearing thin.

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SEE ALSO
Profile: Fernando Lugo
14 Aug 08 |  Americas
Country profile: Paraguay
13 Nov 08 |  Country profiles

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