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AGRICULTURE: Tension Over Presence of ‘Brasiguayos’

Alejandro Sciscioli* - Tierramérica

ASUNCION, Nov 21 2003 (IPS) - Brazilian landowners in Paraguay are accused of gobbling up land and using unsustainable, polluting farming techniques, and some Paraguayans also complain of the heavy cultural influence along the border.

Today, the ”Brasiguayos” (Brazilian-Paraguayans) – as the Brazilian farmers and their descendants are known in this landlocked Southern Cone country of six million people – own 1.2 million hectares of land, or 40 percent of the total surface area in the border departments of Canindeyú and Alto Paraná.

According to private sector estimates, of the 1.5 million hectares of soybeans currently planted in Paraguay, 1.2 million hectares are owned by ”Brasiguayos”.

Brazilians began to buy up land in the southeastern Paraguayan departments of Canindeyú and Alto Paraná, on the border with the Brazilian states of Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul, in the early 1960s.

Today, small farmers in the region and organisations of landless peasants accuse them of a range of ills, from pollution caused by toxic agrochemicals to deforestation and ”imposing” Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language on a vast part of Paraguayan territory.

”It all began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, at the height of the Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) regime,” agronomist and business consultant Carlos Tallone told Tierramérica.

During that period, the Institute of Rural Welfare (IBR) acquired vast extensions of land in Canindeyú and Alto Paraná.

”The idea was to attract Brazilians by selling them the property, because a need for land was detected” on the other side of the border, said Tallone.

Most of the 37,000 Brazilians living in the rural areas of Canindeyú and Alto Paraná are medium-sized landholders owning around 500 hectares, which makes them ”roughly equivalent to the urban middle class,” said Tallone.

The only luxury they allow themselves is to buy modern agricultural machinery. And they do not have a strong political influence, he said.

Some 295,000 Paraguayans also live in the same area, a number that includes the descendants of Brazilian immigrants with legal residency status.

”There is no way to know how many of these inhabitants are the sons and daughters of Brazilians,” the press coordinator in the General Statistics Office, Angie Agüero, told Tierramérica.

”In some border areas, you can see that more than 90 percent of the people are Brazilians and their descendants, and in those areas Portuguese is the language that is spoken and read, and the language in which children are taught in school,” said Tallone.

Due to the Paraguayan state’s lack of presence in the rural areas along the border, the Brazilian immigrants who settled there built their own schools, hired teachers, and organised their communities in health and public security.

”Even today there is not a single Paraguayan official in those areas,” said Tallone.

To encourage Paraguayans to move into the area, the state began in 1963 to distribute 10-hectare parcels of land to poor families for subsistence agriculture.

By 1999, 10,000 families had been settled on small farms through the land distribution programme.

But few benefited from the initiative, said Tallone. ”These people were just dumped in the countryside, with no roads and no culture, and no idea what they had to do,” said the agronomist. ”They did not come with a productive spirit. Where there were forests, they sold the wood. When the lumber was gone, they didn’t do anything.”

IBR official Julio Brun said that ”Besides the fact that the state has been absent in various parts of the country,” the country’s laws are overly lax.

”The laws allow anyone, even people without legal residency status, to buy up land,” said Brun. ”There are undocumented Brazilians who are landowners.”

In 2002, South America’s Mercosur trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, along with associate members Bolivia and Chile, reached an agreement to grant legal residency in any of the member countries to all citizens of Mercosur nations, in order to legalise the status of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

But the agreement is pending ratification by the respective national parliaments.

There are an estimated 380,000 undocumented Brazilian immigrants in Paraguay.

”The Brazilians come in and continue to buy land today without any problem, even if there are people on that land. Then they go to the public prosecutor and ask for the people to be evicted,” Adolfo Grantze, secretary-general of the National Campesino (Peasant) Organisation, said in an interview with Tierramérica.

According to Grantze, when the police come and throw people off the property to enforce a legal order, ”our fellow farmers sometimes pay with their life to defend a little parcel of land.”

The rural activist was referring to the irregular settlements of landless peasants demanding that the state grant them property rights over fallow land that they have occupied and have begun to farm. However, Grantze said his group recognises that landowners have the right to sell their property to whoever they want.

Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Antonio Ibáñez described the phenomenon as an emerging problem ”with economic and social facets.”

”People have the right to sell their land to anyone they want,” but ”we have seen that basic food production by family farms has significantly diminished in the past 10 years, as extensive agriculture has expanded,” he added.

The trend has discouraged local farmers, many of whom have sold their land to soybean-growers, most of whom are ”Brasiguayos”.

”The government is caught in the middle, because we have the social obligation to support production on family farms, but we must also sustain the levels of mechanised production,” said Ibáñez.

The minister denied that the criticism of the ”Brasiguayos” is motivated by xenophobic sentiments, as Brazilian immigrants frequently complain.

(* Originally published Nov. 15 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)

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