stories

Paraguay: to return 17 times

This is the story of the «13 de mayo» settlement in the area of Itapuá, Paraguay. There is a group of rural families -about 70 people- who are trying to maintain their identity and their unique relationship with the land, within the framework of the advance of soybean monoculture. The villagers have been evicted 17 times from the same place. The ownership title of these lands belongs to the former dictator Stroessner’s physician. Every time the Civil Guard or the police appear the community  hides in the forest, carrying what they can, including their children. On the forest,  they communicate with signs to alert each other when the eviction ends. Usually their houses are set on fire. Sometimes they have to spend one or two days hiding and then they can return and start  rebuilding over the ashes. This has been happening since 2003. In between evictions, the families plant for their own subsistence, trying to maintain traditional crops and meals with the help of «hand to hand» commerce, even though the advance of soybean culture seems unstoppable. In Paraguay there are 2,600,000 hectares of soy -twice as much as in 2001- and in the last year 3.8 millons of tons have been produced, despite the drought. There are also 300,000 peasants without land, a figure that has been increasing since 2001, directly related to the rise of soybean culture and the eviction of many rural settlements.

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In each eviction over 100 police officers and civil guards participate. The first thing they do is set the houses on fire. Last time, they burned down 37 of them.

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Soybean field. «Over there», says a woman, «under the orange trees lies a buried child. Everything you can see used to be covered by a camp like ours».

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A young woman from the «13 de Mayo» rural camp. Temporary huts are built after each eviction with whatever is to hand : wood, straw, tree trunks.

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Rural life in the camps is precarious and most of the time, they have to work on the soybean fields as seasonal workers.

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A family in the «13 de Mayo» camp. The growers plant local seeds for their own consumption. As well as tapioca, there is a lot of corn, lentils, peanuts, bananas and squash. The seeds go from hand to hand, like a secret traffic, resisting GMOs.

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Soybean plant before harvesting.

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Young woman in the «13 de Mayo» rural camp. Temporary huts are built after each eviction with whatever is to hand : wood, straw, tree trunks.

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Overview of «13 de Mayo» camp.

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A family of occupants in the «13 de Mayo» camp. Houses are built from wood and what can be find in the surrounding area. There is one chainsaw for the whole camp. After an eviction, everyone helps rebuild the huts.

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Profile of a man of the «13 de Mayo» camp.

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A rural family in the «13 de Mayo» camp. Houses are built from wood and what can be find in the surrounding area. There is one chainsaw for the whole camp. After an eviction, everyone helps rebuild the huts.

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Life in the «13 de Mayo» camp is precarious and most of the time, the inhabitants have to work on the soybean fields as seasonal workers.

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As well as stealing animals and putting glyphosate on the crops (a pesticide that kills all crops except soybean), the evictors block wells. After rebuilding the houses, a new well has to be dug.

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Portrait of a «13 de Mayo» camp inhabitant. Fernando Lugo’s government has promised agricultural reform, but here harvest and eviction carry on as if they were part of a natural cycle.

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In order to survive, camp inhabitants sometimes have to work harvesting soybeans. They are paid 30,000 guaranies (around 6 dollars) for 12 hours picking by hand or with a machete.

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«In this very place», says Theodora, «there used to be a rural camp. Now all you can see is soybean».

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Dorotea and her children inside the house they share in the camp.

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This peasant is like a fireman: always ready to leave quickly. Each family keeps the parcel with their belongings like a treasure to preserve when the eviction arrives.

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Combine harvester for the soybean crops.

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With time, techniques for surviving eviction have become more sophisticated. The «soybean guards» know the names of the peasants, and call them to fool them and make them come out of the jungle. In response they have given each other funny nicknames.... (+)

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In the first house in the camp there is someone who watchs the path permanently. If he sees strange movements, he throws a fire cracker in the air and everyone know what that means : either run or risk dying by the soybean growers’ «guards» bullets.

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When eviction approaches, children from the community know they have to hide in trees in the nearest wood.

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Rural life in the camps is precarious and most of the time, they have to work on the soybean fields as seasonal workers.

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A peasant on one of the dirt roads leading to the camp. The earth in this region is red due to large amounts of red-clay in the soil.

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