Rural Labor

Rural Labor

For most of the Stronato, the government could rely on a supportive peasantry. Linked through the local committees of the Colorado Party, many peasants participated in the land colonization programs of the eastern border region that were sponsored by the government's IBR. Others bypassed the IBR altogether and participated independently in the settlement of the area. In any event, the availability of land served to alleviate somewhat the frustration of peasants who were in a poor economic situation.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, a number of factors contributed to a dramatic reduction of land in the eastern border region. First, an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 Brazilians crossed into Paraguay in search of cheap land. Second, many squatters were forced off their lands by new agribusinesses that were much more efficient than the previous operators of estates. In addition, the completion of the Itaipú hydroelectric project resulted in high unemployment of construction workers, many of whom were former peasants. As a result, an estimated 200,000 families lacked title to their land or had no land at all.

In about 1980, landless peasants began to occupy land illegally. Although some settlements were smashed by the government, others eventually received formal recognition by the IBR. A number of rural organizations also sprang up after 1980 to promote the interests of peasants. Although one of these organizations--the Coordinating Committees of Agricultural Producers (Comités de Coordinación de Productores Agricolas)--was sponsored by the government, its leaders sometimes assumed positions not in line with official policy. Associations of peasants sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church were formed to establish cooperatives and commercialize crop production. A variety of rural organizations loosely grouped themselves into the Paraguayan Peasant Movement (Movimiento Campesino Paraguayo--MCP) in 1980. The MCP included associations of peasants and landless workers as well as the Permanent Commission of Relatives of the Disappeared and Murdered, which dealt with victims of repression in the rural areas.

Although small, the MCP was quite successful in mobilizing the rural poor. For example, in July 1985, it brought together more than 5,000 landless peasants in Caaguazú, where they established the Permanent Assembly of Landless Peasants (Asamblea Permanente de Campesinos sin Tierra--APCT). Despite government harassment, the APCT claimed to be the nation's largest independent mass organization with a membership of 10,000 families. Its objectives were spelled out in a thirteen-point program advocating a radical transformation of society.

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