In Paraguay, a Thorny Struggle Between Land Rights and Conservation

In Paraguay, a Thorny Struggle Between Land Rights and Conservation
A farmer walks near black flags representing 11 landless farmers who were killed during clashes with police over a land dispute in Curuguaty, Paraguay, Nov. 13, 2012 (AP photo by Jorge Saenz).

The government of Paraguay has in recent months come under criticism for its fumbling response to a long-running dispute over the Marina Cue Reserve, a plot of land in the rural district of Curuguaty. While currently state-owned, over 150 poor families claim the land belonged to them before it was forcibly taken decades ago by a powerful associate of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled the country from 1954 to 1989. And while President Mario Abdo Benitez and members of Congress have expressed some interest in helping the families, handing over the land is not so simple.

In December, Abdo Benitez was forced to veto a bill he appeared to initially support, and which his long-ruling Colorado Party had expedited through Congress in an extra session. The bill would have transferred parts of the 4,319-acre Marina Cue Reserve, also known as the Ybera Reserve, from the Ministry of Environment to a rural development agency tasked with distributing the titles to families. However, that process would violate one of the country’s most important deforestation laws, Abdo Benitez later explained, because it would be opening a forest up to potential development.

Now, lawmakers are stuck between environmental advocates and human rights groups, both of whom seem to have legitimate, good-faith arguments about what to do with the land. The dispute’s outcome could have important implications for a country with one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world and one of the highest rates of inequality when it comes to land distribution.

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