An era of systematic violations of human rights came to an end in Paraguay following the fall of the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989), who headed one of the most brutal regimes on the continent. After the first elections were held, the peasant movement quickly mobilized to address unequal land distribution in the country, where only 400 families own 90 percent of the land, even though most of the population makes its living from agriculture. Since that time, peasants have been working for land reforms to change this situation.
Recently, however, they have faced increasing difficulties in their work, as a decline in the respect for human rights in the country has made the peasantry and other organizations defending human rights targets of pressure and repeated accusations, as well as victims of a media smear campaign. In June 2012, peasants occupied land belonging to the State and the police intervened to remove them. A total of eleven peasants and six policemen were killed. The case caused an unprecedented political crisis, leading to the removal of President Lugo a few days later. The incident also sparked a reaction from Paraguay’s episcopacy, which broke its silence, to denounce the suffering of the population and ask authorities to find a solution to the problem of peasants imprisoned following the violent clashes.
El Servicio Paz y Justicia-Paraguay (Service for Justice and Peace in Paraguay), known as SERPAJ-PY, has been a Development and Peace partner for more than sixteen years, and is denouncing this deteriorating situation. It is speaking out against the government’s strategy to block social demands, particularly those related to land, and highlighting the criminalization of peasant leaders and human rights defenders, who often face criminal charges, and are arrested and dragged into long, expensive and complicated criminal proceedings.
In light of this critical situation, SERPAJ-PY has launched an extensive awareness-raising campaign entitled When we speak of human rights in Paraguay, exactly what are we talking about? to denounce the violence and stigmatization faced by Paraguayan peasants and organizations defending human rights. Development and Peace is supporting its partner in this campaign and has sent a letter of solidarity to the organization for their courageous action.
Development and Peace supports a number of projects in Paraguay primarily aimed at promoting rural development, strengthening the democratization process, and training community leaders with a view to establishing a model for sustainable development.