Paraguay: The Brazilians

I asked Lena Rigley, the wife of a Brazilian soy grower, to read from the police report filed shortly after their soy plantation was invaded in 2001:

"Approximately 50 people who call themselves peasants without land who live by the road came to the property violently with firearms. A group went directly to where the machinery is kept and another group went to kick-in the house door. One of the invaders screamed if they don't come out they will kill them. They couldn't see their faces because it was dark. The other group immediately set fire to the farm machinery and also burned the storage area."

In 1985 Lena's father in-law was invited by the Paraguayan government to purchase land here in eastern Paraguay. Like thousands of other Brazilians they sold 400 hectares in Brazil and bought 2500 hectares from the Paraguayan government.

"All of the land here was jungle at that time," says Lena's husband, Ademir. "There were no roads. When my father first arrived he had to walk here from Santa Rita."

Santa Rita is 25 miles away and inhabited almost entirely by Brazilian woman, the wives and daughters of soy growers who prefer the town's safety. You cannot see the town from the Rigley plantation, it's tucked behind rolling soy fields that stretch out for miles in every direction. 30 years ago you wouldn't have even noticed the hills because it was obscured by the jungle. Now, with 90% of the Atlantic Rainforest cleared by Brazilian homesteaders planting soy, land value has increased eight-fold.

The wealth created in and around Santa Rita is staggering when compared to other towns in Paraguay and even Asuncion itself. Rigley's neighbor, Agropeco Inc., is a 4000 hectare farm worth nearly a billion US dollars. The owners, who live in Italy, employ 18 security guards with shotguns and ammunition belts strapped across their chests. Our hotel in Santa Rita was a modern 40-room villa with two courtyards, lush indoor trees, and WiFi. We ate at a pizza parlor where Brazilian teenagers courted each other until late at night equipped with iPods and tattoos.

"The problem we have now is that the peasants want to nullify my claims on my land," Rigley said referring to the squatters by the road, the same squatters I met the day before and the same ones who invaded his land in 2001. According to Rigley, he purchased worthless land and made it valuable.

Now the peasants want it. They steal his cattle and threaten his family to get it.

"They put a lot of pressure on my family. Even my brother sold his land and moved back to Brazil," he said.

Rigley says the Paraguayan government has no solution for the land problem. Only with promises of free land did the squatters agree to let the Rigley family move back to their plantation.

"None of our employees keep their women here," Lena Rigley says, "It's not safe while the men are in the field."

This is exactly what Fernando Lugo proposes and why the thousands of landless peasants support him.