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A Coup Over Land: Monsanto, Dupont, and Cargill's Resource War Behind Paraguay's Crisis

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

Each bullet hole on the downtown Asuncion, Paraguay light posts tells a story. Some of them are from civil wars decades ago, some from successful and unsuccessful coups, others from police crackdowns. The size of the hole, the angle of the ricochet, all tell of an escape, a death, another dictator in the palace by the river.

On June 22 of this year, a new tyrant entered the government palace. The right-wing Federico Franco became president in what has been deemed a parliamentary coup against democratically-elected, left-leaning President Fernando Lugo.

What lies behind today's headlines, political fights and struggles for justice in Paraguay is a conflict over access to land; land is power and money for the elites, survival and dignity for the poor, and has been at the center of major political and social battles in Paraguay for decades. In order to understand the crisis in post-coup Paraguay, it's necessary to grasp the political weight of the nation's soil. Here, a look at the history of Paraguay's resource war for land, the events leading up to the coup, and the story of one farming community's resistance places land at the heart of nation's current crisis.

The Coup and the Land

Hope surrounded the electoral victory of Fernando Lugo in 2008, a victory which ended the right wing Colorado Party's 61 year dominance of Paraguayan politics. It was a victory against the injustice and nightmare of the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989), and a new addition to the region's left-leaning governments. The election of Lugo, a former bishop and adherent to liberation theology, was due in large part to grassroots support from the campesino (small farmer) sector and Lugo's promise of long-overdue land reform.

Yet Lugo was isolated politically from the very beginning. He needed to ally with the right to win the election; his Vice President Federico Franco is a leader in the right wing Liberal Party and was a vocal opponent of Lugo since shortly after Lugo came to power. Throughout Lugo's time in office the Colorado Party maintained a majority in Congress and there were various right wing attempts to impeach the "Red Bishop." Such challenges have impeded Lugo's progress and created a political and media environment dominated by near-constant attacks and criticism toward Lugo.