ASUNCION – Groups of peasants and farmhands camped out in Asuncion on Monday in their fifth week of mobilization are awaiting a Senate vote on Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes’ veto of the bill approved by Congress to subsidize the debts of thousands of small producers.
Cartes vetoed on Friday the bill approved last week by the lower house, and earlier by the Senate, claiming its cost would exceed $3.2 billion, or 25 percent of the national budget.
Peasant associations, which for a month have been staging demonstrations in the capital to demand the cancellation of their members’ debts, announced that on Tuesday they will resume their marches in rejection of the presidential veto and ask the two chambers of Congress to support the bill, thus transforming it into law despite Cartes’ failure to approve it.
The bill includes paying the debts up to $10,000 of small farmers owning less than 30 hectares (about 75 acres).
Luis Cabrera, with the National Peasant Intersector Coordinator, told EFE on Monday that the government’s estimated amount of the total debt “is a lie” and that, in his opinion, the total does not exceed $30 million.
The Senate leadership on Monday began discussions with an eye toward setting a date for the session in which the president’s veto will be dealt with, after which the matter will be addressed in the lower house.
The Senate requires a majority of 23 votes and the lower chamber 41 votes to override the veto.
If the veto is rejected, the law will then be promulgated by the executive branch.
The National Police announced that it will continue to deploy security for the peasants’ marches in the capital but that officers will not carry firearms during those demonstrations.
Paraguay imports more than half of its food, in large measure because much of the arable land is planted in soybeans for export.
The country has 2.5 million peasants, comprising about 35 percent of the population, and 90 percent of rural land is held by less than 5 percent of the landowners.