The ‘soybeanisation’ of the Paraguayan economy has had a devastating impact on the country’s ecology, rural populations and democratic process, but it has been lucrative for foreign corporations and the domestic oligarchy.
In 2003, the agrichemical behemoth Syngenta published a controversial advertisement in Argentinian newspapers. It showed a map of South America with a large portion of the Southern Cone – Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil – highlighted in green and labelled the ‘United Republic of Soybeans.’ The ad was criticised as an expression of neocolonial avarice directed at one of the region’s most profitable exports. Echoes of the 20th century’s ‘banana republics,’ maldeveloped export economies governed by brutal puppets of US corporations, were obvious: either Syngenta did not notice the historical correlation or, more likely, deliberately stoked the legacies of foreign meddling in the region.
The implications of the ad were obvious: for multinational agribusiness, the people of Latin America do not matter, nor do fair labour practices or the sanctity of democratically-elected governments. These companies only see profit, and they are more than willing to reorganise the region at will to enrich themselves. Agribusiness concerns such as Syngenta, Monsanto, and Bayer have insinuated themselves with governments throughout the region, which have then facilitated the dispossession of rural campesinos – expelling them from their homes, deforesting their lands, murdering them if they become too rebellious – so that the land can be purchased by their corporate friends.
In the words of Joel E. Correia, ‘soy is a central node in networks of social, political-economic, scientific and ecological relations literally rooted in, reshaping and reterritorializing many states in South America..’ Some scholars refer to this violent neocolonial process as the sojización, or ‘soybeanisation,’ of the Southern Cone.
Soybean production is central to the political and economic functioning of the Paraguayan state. In fact, sojización recently played a decisive role in the country’s national politics. As noted above, an integral part of soybeanisation is the eviction of rural farmers so that their land can be purchased by multinational agribusiness corporations. In 2012, an eviction of this kind led to a massacre, a national scandal and a legal coup against the leftwing president Fernando Lugo.
On 15 June 2012, 300 police officers descended on the town of Curuguaty to evict 70 landless farmers from their property. This land had been belonged to the state before military dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled for a 35-year period known as the stronato (1954-1989), transferred ownership to a friend. The confrontation, whose exact details remain muddled, led to the deaths of 11 campesinos and six policemen. Rightwing forces in Congress used the killings as a pretext to impeach President Lugo, who, as a former bishop, a student of liberation theology and the first progressive head of state in the country’s history, was seen as dangerously sympathetic to the plight of the farmers.
The fall of Lugo, who was a thorn in the side of agribusiness, was immediately followed by a scramble to appease these powerful forces. The next president, Federico