PRIMERO DE MARZO, Paraguay – Corralled by police and threatened with imminent displacement, peasants in the eastern Paraguayan village of Primero de Marzo are holding out on the land of a farm Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship in 1969 ceded to a businessman in exchange for an airplane.
The 4,499 hectares (about 11,250 acres) of the farm was awarded to the Perfecta S.A.M.I. company, which specialized in importing and selling weapons and ammunition, in exchange for an airplane valued at three million guaranis, or about $535.
The OLT organization, which is fighting for the peasants’ land rights, says that awarding the land to the firm was illegal and argues that the law does not authorize transferring land to business organizations but only to producers subject to the country’s agrarian reform.
The organization also says that the exceptionally fertile land is not being “rationally occupied for production” by the company, while thousands of landless peasants in the zone are demanding plots on which to grow their food.
Tired of going hungry and putting up with economic deprivation, a number of peasant families, backed by the OLT, on March 1, 2012, entered the farm and founded a settlement where they live and grow crops, feeding the more than 1,600 people who now live there.
But the Bendlin family, which owns the company to which the state gave the farm, has complained to the Attorney General’s Office and began persecuting the peasants.
And now, the threat of a new and violent attempt to relocate the peasants appears to be imminent as police and soldiers have blocked access to the town and besieged it.
Despite the growing tension, the peasants are sticking with their demand that the government recover the lands given illegally by the dictatorship to the company and distribute 3,300 hectares (8,250 acres) of it to the small farmers of Primero de Marzo, the settlement’s leader, Jorge Mercado, told EFE.