Campesino Community Tekojoja under attack

PRESS RELEASE november 1st

The community of Tekojoja in Eastern Paraguay has once again found itself under attack, and the Movimiento Agrario y Popular (MAP), the peasant organization involved in the community, is publicly denouncing those responsible. Ever since the beginning of the 2007/08 soy harvest, this small community has suffered the effects of contamination and violence, and an increased disregard for the applicable environmental laws (specifically Law 123/91, Decree 2048/04 and Resolution 485/03).

Tekojoja is the same community that, between 2002 and 2005, was repeatedly attacked by police and soy farmers, who destroyed crops, burnt houses, arrested residents, and eventually killed two of them. The residents, with the help of the MAP, eventually won their case against the soy farmers in September 2006, but other farmers who have full title to land near the community, have continued to cultivate soy and to use pesticides irresponsibly around houses, roads, water sources and schools.

On October 24th, 2007, after the MAP repeatedly denounced the environmental crimes, the community was visited by functionaries from SENAVE (the National Department of Plant and Seed Quality Control) and the SEAM (the Secretariat of the Environment). During that intervention, two owners of soy fields that border the community promised to respect the following provisions of the environmental laws:

Mr. Jorge Diemer, who own 7.5 hectares of soybeans, agreed to use only a portable sprayer (a backpack) for those parts of his field closer than 50 meters to the road and 100 meters from the community.
Mr. Loribaldo Birch, who owns 15 hectares, agreed to stop planting crops requiring pesticides, and to comply with all environmental laws surrounding their use.

Nonetheless, on Sunday the 28th, police and private armed guards arrived in the community to oversee the spraying of other similar properties, again with complete disregard for environmental laws. When members of the MAP confronted the guards about their actions, the latter were verbally abusive and threatened local residents.

Until now, the authorities have ignored our constant requests while the harvest continues. On the 1st of November, Antonio Vazquez arrived to spray his soy field. Vasquez is the supposed owner of a property previously claimed by Nestor Opperman, brother of Ademir Opperman, who has not been seen since he escaped custody after murdering two campesinos in Tekojoja. Residents arrived at Vazquez’ lot to try to stop the fumigation, and were confronted with five police officers from the district (led by Osvaldo Vasquez, son of the supposed owner) and members of the local Citizens Security Commission, a vigilante squad led by Vasquez himself. Again we were verbally abused, and death threats were made against Antonio Galeano.

During the initial visit by SEAM and SENAVE officials, police were informed that Vazquez was breaking environmental laws. Nonetheless, instead of working in the zone to uphold those laws, they act as the private security guards of large landholders. On top of the suffering caused by the violation of environmental laws, residents of the community have to live with constant threats from their own supposed authorities, abetted by local vigilantes.

In the face of these continuing threats, the MAP is requesting:
The urgent intervention by the SENAVE and the SEAM in six communities where similar problems are occurring
The monitoring of landowners who are violating environmental laws
A study of pollution in the community and the health of its members
The cooperation and participation of all institutions charged with enforcing environmental laws
That all police and armed civilians abstain from participating in the harvest and the spraying of monocultures and get back to their duty, which is the PROTECTION OF THE WELL-BEING OF PARAGUAYAN CITIZENS.

We categorically blame the government for all of these crimes and aggressions that continue only because of their completely dysfunctional approach to the laws that protect the population.

As the true residents of this community, we denounce and will continue denouncing all violations of our rights.

Jorge Galeano
Grassroots Leader of the MAP
agrariopopular [at]