YBY YAÚ, PARAGUAY–
Heading east on route 5 from Concepción, Paraguay, there is dirt road turn-off just before the pueblo of Yby Yaú and some 12 kilometres down the dusty track you will reach the settlement of Horqueta Arroyito and simple home of the once Benjamin Lezcano whom whilst watching a game of football on his television, was shot by two gunmen a total of 20 times in the arm, chest and face, now over a year ago.
Benjamin, known as “Toto” to almost everyone but his mother, was one of the the communities most respected members. Considered a ‘pioneer’ for farmers rights throughout the region, he had been on the settlement since just after it’s birth during a non-violent occupation of the land in the late 1980’s.
After news broke of Lezcano’s death, locals demanded a full investigation (it was not until the next day that policeofficers even arrived at the scene), but over a year later no-one has been tried, convicted, arrested or even questioned in relation to the brutal murder.
Toto became leader of the local union group called “Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia” (named after Paraguay’s earliest leader following it’s independence), the group fought for access to land often through occupation- last occupying a new area now known as Estancia Santa Adelia, close to Tito’s own community, back in 2008. The groups motives seem much inspired by the The Landless Workers movement which continues to gain considerable momentum throughout much of the continent.
In recent years, under Toto’s leadership, the group became very opposed to spread and growth of GM Soya production in the area. Concerned for the health and quality of their land from contamination from the encroaching pesticide use, local settlers mobilized and for some time kept Big Agra from the region, but having pressures GM-loving neighbours of Brazil and Argentina to contend with, Paraguay is now the 6th largest producer of Monsanto’s newest strain of Soy and this is causing significant local pressures. GM now accounts for 55% of all crop production in the country.
With their lands closely bordering Brazil, Lezcano and others had been opposing several large Brazilian Agricultural companies that continue to buy up land on Paraguay’s fertile lowlands- some locals believe his death was somehow arranged by such companies as his heroic work continued to delay their efforts.
“A hero’s death is never in vain- la lucha continúa!”
The hero may now have moved on, but the group has vowed that Lezcano’s death will only unite them further in their struggles for land sovereignty and in their continued battle against Big Agra and GM production in the region.
Indeed there is a war being waged in the realms of South American land reform and agricultural policy- but the defenders do not wear ties, preach latest manifesto promises or sit in officers…. Instead, they carry forks, drive tractors, tend compost heaps and fight for the land- their land. Paraguay is at the epicentre and Lezcano’s story must be heard- a country and issue so seldomly in focus, but so desperate to be heard now.