Interview with Jorge Galeano, Movimiento Agrario y Popular (MAP), Vaqueria, Caaguazu, Paraguay Autumn 2006

In September 2006, the Movimiento Agrario y Popular (MAP), an organisation of small farmers and landless people from Caaguazu, Central Paraguay, finally gained a legal victory in a long battle. After several land occupations and consequent violent land evictions, the Supreme Court in Asuncion decided that INDERT, a public institution, had illegally sold land to Brazilian soy producers. The MAP formed a local political party to protect the interests of peasants in a corrupt and increasingly repressive political environment. Jorge Galeano, co-founder of the MAP, was interviewed shortly after the elections.

What was the battle about?

This major legal breakthrough in Paraguay is the result of a three year struggle about common land. The final Court sentence gives us back state-owned land which was originally destined for much needed land reform, but was instead sold to private large scale soy-farmers. In the struggle to reclaim the land a complete community was poisoned, crops of local peasants were destroyed, over 50 farms got burned down twice over and two companeros were murdered. According to the agricultural reform law no. 1863 our peasants are entitled to the land, and the transfer to foreigners and other land-owners is forbidden. This victory is really a very important one.

It is obvious that our public institutions are completely corrupt; especially those concerned with the administration of state-owned land. With the recent boom in soy-production, the rising soy-prices on the international markets and the introduction of GM soy in Paraguay in 2000, it has become interesting for foreigners to obtain land in Paraguay. Brazilians, especially OPERMAN, ADEMARARCARI, TRANQUILINO FAVERO, have bought large areals of public land in our region. They were aided by INDERT officials who are supposed to uphold the reform law of our country. We denounced them and set up camps for landless farmers on illegally sold land.

We fought the State Department, the national Congress, the Prosecution Council and the executive powers which ignored our demands all those years, and even facilitated repression against the peasants of the Agrarian Movement. Some senators supported our fight, like bishop Juan Bautista Gavilan. We obtained legal assistance in the institutional struggle, and political help on the part of the Congress and the Catholic church. The Court received letters from Holland, Canada, Spain, Argentina and Brasil, drawing attention to the situation of the children of the Tekojoja community that are without a home, without clothing, without food and demanding that the Court should take a decision.

The designated land will now be handed back to the peasant families for whom we have been fighting these three years. Our victory was very impressive; it is the victory of members of the community but also of the international community who helped us. We 'd like to celebrate this victory with them.

What action is taken against the gunmen who fired at farmers to chase them off the land?

We demand justice for the families of the companeros that were killed, Angel Cristaldo, Leoncio Torres and for Nicolas Gonzalez, whose right arm was destroyed by bullets fired by Operman (one of the Brazilian soy farmers, ed.) and his armed gang. In the course of the trial 26 persons have been detained, of whom actually only one person is still in prison. The main criminal, Operman, was temporarily confined to his house. He is now on the run and an official outlaw. On October 26 the case will have a next hearing. So far the Paraguayan Justice department has not done anything, we believe that they support the criminals.
In preparation of the next hearing, the public prosecutor will talk to several witnesses. We want to draw international attention to the case. The Agrarian Movement doesn’t get legal aid, the case is handled by a supportive lawyer.

Can you tell a bit more about the local political party founded by the MAP?

The initiative was launched after a farmers congress, organised by the Agrarian Movement in which the MAP took part. Due to the total lack of attention to agrarian issues by local authorities we decided we need to take part in local government ourselves. The resulting independent organization is called the Movimiento de Unidad Ciudadana (MUC) and has candidates in the Vaqueria district. Their slogan is : “For my land, For my district and my people”.

What is your political program?

Participants in the project are farmers leaders, whose first priority is the defence of the cultural and ecological interests of the farmers communities.
Secondly there is the issue of wrongly adjudicated land and unreliable local authorities.
Although the Court ruling allows us to reclaim land but we can not count on the cooperation of the local government, and we have to keep on fighting.

Then there is the theme of badly needed health service and education in the communities ruled by institutionalised corruption; where people who demand proper treatment are blackmailed by government officials.

Next point is the local financial administration; we find that the revenue is not used for the benefit of the farmer population, including young people, children, elderly people, teachers, professional workers. Our village is completely isolated by lack of infrastructure. We aim to improve education opportunities by cooperating with neighbouring municipalities and similar communities in other MercoSur countries.

Our aim is to stimulate local markets and local agricultural and artistic produce. We want to improve food security through local farms and promote small scale family agriculture, the best guarantee for the well-being of the population. We are looking for better controlled social services and for ways to facilitate community centres.

The government of Paraguay has now adopted Plan Colombia. This involves organising armed civilians in so-called ' committees of civil security': in fact organised repression and political control at work in Paraguay. This is what we reject categorically. We demand that peoples safety is guaranteed by the National Congress through officially established government bodies.

Interview by Javiera Rulli.
Translation by Yvonne Holland and Maaike Holland

Note: The MAP won two seats in the local council.