Academic journal article MACLAS Latin American Essays

State Politics, Market Economy, and Community Rights and Duties in Rural Paraguay(1)

Academic journal article MACLAS Latin American Essays

State Politics, Market Economy, and Community Rights and Duties in Rural Paraguay(1)

Article excerpt

State Politics, Market Economy, and Community Rights and Duties in Rural Paraguay

In the national Paraguayan land registry, Nu Pyajhu Guazu, Caazapa appears to be a community of "middle" peasants (titles are listed for landholdings from 20 to 50 hectares), and it is reported as such in the available censuses. In the community itself, the population consists of 46 registered land owners or occupants with land tenure status and 60 families without land. Since the late 1970s, land available for "squatters" has become scarce both locally and in the larger eastern frontier zone adjacent to the Brazilian border. Consequently, land has become valuable and a new importance has become attached to obtaining title for land that previously was occupied with "rights to title."

The political economy of the zone can be described as the "household" type with economic and political control emanating from regional elites and an absence of land markets for the extent of its 80 year history (Halperin 1977). The residents are subsistence farmers who participate in a market economy by cash-cropping cotton and they share a national capitalist ideology and a belief in the potential of individual advancement.

Land rights are legally owned individually but the utilization of land is dependent upon a number of factors: non-jural ownership, fictive kinship ties, community needs, productivity of the land and land type, and number of hectares. The actual land use patterns and decisions made about it are influenced by historical contingencies and the effects of the political economy of the state. The result is that the individual is constrained in his or her choices and options, not only by the regional elites, state politics, and the market economy, but by community rights and duties.

This paper investigates how changes in the political economy of the state have influenced property ownership and the social mores of this specific community in rural Paraguay. It does so through an analysis of land ownership (or land tenure, nearly synonymous in this case) and compadrazgo (godparentage) choice patterns. Private property can serve as an economic measure of wealth and status with ownership of the means of production helping to define the individuals' class standing. However, land ownership does not always convey automatic status or class position, as becomes clear when we examine the data in this study.

This paper proceeds from Eric Wolf's (1982) work. He suggests observing "local and parochial relationships in terms of wider unfolding economic and political processes, while trying simultaneously to grasp how human beings in communities responded to these processes through culturally informed action and action involved cultural forms" (1986:328). Further, Paul E. Durrenberger and Nicola Tannenbaum (1992:86) note that, "it is one thing to assert that systems change, that they are enmeshed in widespread networks of economic and political causation, but it is another to be able to show how such world systems or global events affect individuals or their households."

Many studies have shown that as isolated communities undergo change stemming from capitalist expansion that there is a shift in compadrazgo choice patterns from horizontal, within the community ties, to vertical, outside the community ties (Mintz and Wolf 1950; Foster 1969). At the time of this study, there had been no shift to making vertical ties outside the community, but the data do reveal an interesting internal pattern of compadrazgo choice patterns.

Community Background

In Nu Pyajhu Guazu there are differences in how much land each nuclear family has available (and whether it is agricultural land, estero (seasonally swampy land), pasture land, virgin land, or farmed out land), but there have been no class distinctions based on land ownership or economic wealth. Historically the land has been monetarily valueless because of a lack of transport infrastructure making the land undesirable except for marginal subsistence farming. …

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