Benjamín ‘Toto’ Lezcano died at his home in the central department of Concepción after being shot 15 times. He was approached by two men on a bicycle, who then escaped to a farm owned by Brazilians and have not been traced. The murder took place on the afternoon of Tuesday 19 February. 53-year old Lezcano was a firm opponent of the monoculture of soya and the use of genetically modified plants.
Another local rural leader, Francisco Jara, told the Paraguayan media: ‘Our working hypothesis is that he was executed by gunmen contracted by Brazilian soya producers.’
In similar circumstances last December another rural leader, Vidal Vega, 46, was shot at point-blank range. Vega, chair of a commission calling for land redistribution in Curuguaty, was regarded as a key witness in the investigation of the conflict that resulted in 17 deaths in June 2012 and was used to overthrow President Fernando Lugo.
The Paraguayan human rights coordination body Codehupy, says that at least 129 rural workers have been killed in the last 25 years as a result of land conflict. According to Codehupy, after the overthrow of dictator Alfredo Stroessner in 1989, pressure for land reform reduced land concentration slightly, but from 1992 to 2008 land ownership again became more concentrated.
On 23 February it was reported that a judge had sentenced a 16-year old to two years’ imprisonment for ‘criminal association’ after he had taken food and clothing to the peasants occupying the public land known as Marina Kue in Curuguaty.
The murder comes during the campaign for general elections on 21 April. These are the first elections since those in 2008, won by Fernando Lugo. Since Lugo’s overthrow by a parliamentary coup in June 2012, his former vice-president, Federico Franco has acted as president. Lugo is running for the senate in the April elections.