Visit to Paraguayan embassy in Brussels, October 2006

During the writing of this article, there has been an important development. On October 31st, the conviction of the soy farmers responsible for the death of Silvino Talavera, was confirmed by the court in Encarnación. However, the case has not been won yet.

Monday, 30 October 2006 - A group of seven activists and campaigners went to the Paraguayan embassy in Brussels. One of the aims of the support group from the 'Silvino Talavera' campaign was to hand over a petition to ambassador Raul Vera Bogado about the 'Silvino Talavera' case and ask him about the enormous impact on the environment and human rights had by the industrial agricultural-export model that is gaining more hold in Paraguay.

This campaign is being carried out in Paraguay to force a judgement in a precedent making court case about a boy, Silvino Talavera, who died after he had been sprayed twice with agricultural pesticides, large quantities of which are used to produce (gm) soy for the European market. The soy producers who have already been convicted twice for doing so, may now get off, even though the health crisis in soy growing areas is deepening.

Ambassador Raul Vera Bogado: "This is a landmark case"

Mr. Vera Bogado immediately said that he had read various articles about this case, after we had phoned him for an appointment. He also knew about the actions that happened in Paraguay the week before this visit. His first reaction was "I will send a report of this meeting immediately this afternoon to the minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of Paraguay. (...) This is a criminal matter." He said to think the case was very serious and sad, and indeed a "criminal matter". He promised to try to ensure, via the Paraguayan government that a swift judgement would be made in this case. He agreed to send us a copy of the Ministry's answer.

About the case itself, he said that a new criminal law had been introduced 5 years ago in Paraguay, containing a provision that a case must be solved within a certain period (3 years and 6 months). This was meant to ensure that people no longer had to spend years in jail before their case was brought. However, as a result, a case that has now been waiting for a judgement in the Appeal Court in Encarnación for 15 months may now expire. According to the ambassador, this usually could not happen without consequences for the judges in question. “This could mean the end of their careers”. One jurist, the embassy’s first secretary, Ines Martinez Valinotti, added that if this case expires, that it doesn’t mean the end, because the case can be referred back to the High Court of Justice. They also mentioned that there are new reforms in the making for the penal court, now being dealt with by a special committee of the Senate.

Vera mentioned that it was a German professor in law who designed the new penal court, including the stipulation that a case expires after 3 years and 6 months. This professor, Schöne, has also helped redesign, with Mr Vera, the new IPR law for Paraguay.

The European support group for the 'Silvino Talavera' campaign said that internationally, there is more attention for the consequences of mass soy production. Petrona Villasboa, Silvino’s mother was present at the UN conference on biodiversity in Curitiba, Brazil, where her testimony received a lot of attention. Back in the state of Itapúa, in the south of Paraguay, her brother Serapio, disappeared: his body was found 10 days later, covered in knife wounds. In the same period, Petrona’s first grandson was born, but he died 5 months later of hydrocephalus (water on the brain), a condition that is often connected to exposure to pesticides.

"More attention to the dangers of pesticides"

According to Mr Vera Bogado, more attention is being paid to the dangers of pesticides in Paraguay. "Even the president has held a speech in which he emphasised the disadvantages of soy production, something for which he received heavy criticism from the soy industry."

The support group then showed him a series of photos that revealed the consequences of soy cultivation for both the environment (deforestation) and people (poisoning and violent land conflicts). The repression of small and landless farmers has increased explosively over the last few years. Use is made of civil armed militia to keep the situation under control. Many police militia have been called to the capital city to keep control of the situation there. Each year, thousands of people are forced to migrate from their land to the slums of the capital, Asunción. The US has sent troops to Paraguay to train their army, and this has lead to great unrest among the rural population. The times of Stroessner are still fresh in people’s memories and today, human rights are still being violated on a regular basis.

Responding to this, Mr. Vera said the president had launched a social program for evicted communities, who live in settlements. He said this was the first government who had initiated such program. It was launched this year and is administered by the Secretaria Accion Social.

The ambassador was quick to acknowledge that the soy monocultures are not sustainable. Not surprisingly, however, Mr. Vera stressed that he was a supporter of free trade. He thought that the problem was that small farmers could not put their products on the market because of industrialised countries’ subsidies. So he said, the EU and US should stop with subsidising agro-produce. Their refusal to do so caused the breakdown of the last international trade negotiations. He also stressed the support of the government for other crops like sugarcane (see below biofuel), cattle (raising exports) and stevia (artificial sweetener, currently still banned from many markets under pressure from aspartame producers).

Soy as bio-energy

There is a real threat that after animal feed, bio-energy is going to be the next mega market for products like soy. In a free trade situation, further development of industrialised agriculture detrimental to small farmers growing food crops cannot be stopped. Mr Vera Bogado answered that bio-energy can create job opportunities in the countryside. He thought that sugar cane (for ethanol) is more suitable than soy and gives work for approximately 8 people per hectare. However work on an industrial sugar plantation does not really paint a rosy picture of the future. He informed us that three European companies are looking for land in Paraguay for the cultivation of bio-energy crops for both the European and North American market. He didn't want to tell us which companies, because the information was "confidential". He stressed that bio-energy crops for ethanol will only be viable until a synthetic way of making ethanol becomes available.

In this context, the ambassador said that Paraguay should benefit as much as possible from Kyoto financial mechanisms. There has been an Argentinian company, a broker in carbon credits, that tried to gain the monopoly over this market. (one of the three that say they are the biggest). He was referring to the no-deforestation law (that according to him got applause from WWF) and biofuel production.

The conviction of the farmers is confirmed

During the writing of this article, there has been an important development. On October 31st, the conviction of the soy farmers responsible for the death of Silvino Talavera, was confirmed by the court in Encarnacion. Of course this is an important victory in this precedent making court case in the campaign to stop soy-related violence against peasants in Paraguay. A positive decision would have enormous consequences for thousands of others who has experienced the direct effects of (Roundup-Ready) soy cultivation. However, the case has not been won yet! The defence has 10 working days to make a higher appeal at the Supreme Court in Asunción.
International pressure is still very necessary to encourage the judges to deal with the case before it expires on the 4th of December. More signed petition are therefore very welcome!

Read the latest updates about the court case and the still necessary call to send support letters. In addition you can find an article about the Petrona and her family, more background information about Paraguay and a call for financial support for this family and their campaign for justice and against the soy plantations.

More information in spanish about the 'case Petrona' you can find on