They Repudiate Threats Against the Priest Ruben Lassaga, from Pellegrini

They Repudiate Threats Against the Priest Rubén Lassaga, from Pellegrini

They Repudiate Threats Against the Priest Rubén Lassaga, from Pellegrini

This is assured by the Group of Priests in the Option for the Poor, which denounces the expulsive advance of soy in Santiago del Estero. Lassaga was anonymously warned not to “get involved in what does not belong” because the next time there will be no warning.

A priest in the middle of the mountain. Although he is alone, he speaks in the plural. There are others who, like him, stopped dealing only with baptisms and masses and mixed with indigenous people and peasants in the resistance. “What we do is a bit of teaching, making them aware of their rights. We do not ask for anything special, just to live in peace and that their possessory rights to the land, to the roads, to the water, are not subjugated”.

The actions of Rubén Lassaga, parish priest of Nueva Esperanza, head of the Pellegrini department in Santiago del Estero, have a cost. A few days ago, from a phone number with a prefix from Tucumán, they explained the price: “We want to send a message to the priest: the paths of Mount Pellegrini are long and lonely, and he always walks alone. The paths have their traps, and please don’t keep getting involved in what doesn’t belong to you, and that next time there won’t be a warning message”.

In that zone of landscapes –El Quemado, La Aloja, La Bolsa, Los Cercos, El Cavao, La Ovejería, Las Delicias, Puesto Nuevo, El Diablo, There We Will See, La Manga, Agua Amarga and El Saladillo, among others– where the boundaries between Salta, Tucumán and Santiago de Estero become invisible, the Parish Land Committee has been in operation for almost twenty years, a space that emerged with the aim of “promoting the organization of rural and urban communities; promote training in cooperatives, in human, social and citizen rights in a sustainable way of alternative production; and improve the quality of life from a socio-political project of inclusion and rights”. The drafters of those lofty principles may have underestimated the fierce opposition of the powerful.

“It is the first time that something like this has happened – admits Lassaga, a member of the Parish Land Committee – and that we were in violent conflicts with armed gangs, but they never got that far. What explanation can I find? It is all part of a context of struggle for land in Santiago del Estero that has been going on for a long time and has intensified since the mid-1990s with the authorization of transgenic seeds, which caused the extension of the agricultural frontier, which is nothing more than clearing the native forest to plant soybeans, expelling the original communities or fumigating them if they decide to stay on their land.”

In a statement of repudiation, the Group of Priests in the Option for the Poor (COPP), “heirs” of the Movement of Priests for the Third World, expressed that “always in our country the pretense of owning the land or distributing it was motivated by of conflicts. Thus it was that peasants and indigenous people were evicted, displaced and murdered. Their appropriated lands, their slaughtered animals, their poisoned wells and bulldozers and security forces, legal and illegal, were present where yesterday they were absent”.

They Repudiate Threats Against the Priest Rubén Lassaga, from Pellegrini
They Repudiate Threats Against the Priest Rubén Lassaga, from Pellegrini

“With the complicity of the judicial and political powers, and media manipulation, those who yesterday quietly and ancestrally occupied the land today have been presented as usurpers and criminals (…) we want to remind the judiciary that their cause is justice, by executive power that their cause is the people, to the media that their cause is the truth, and to the appropriators and violent people that they are the cause of the pain and suffering of so many,” the document concludes.

For Sergio Raffaelli, parish priest of Pozo Hondo and Lassaga’s colleague, in resisting the relentless advance of agribusiness, the commitment assumed (even at the risk of losing everything) can only be explained through that Christian mandate of “being by the side, not of the good nor the neat, but of the poor”.

“As a priest – he continues – one wants to live alongside the lives of the poor and the main problem they have is land ownership, either because the soybean owners want to expel them, or because they fumigate them and make them sick. When you visit the community or do the things typical of any priest, such as officiating at a baptism or a mass, you learn about the realities of the communities and you can’t play dumb. Somehow one commits oneself and makes these struggles one’s own”.

At the beginning of July, Governor Gerardo Zamora boasted through his social networks of the study carried out by the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics (Celag) that placed Santiago del Estero as the sixth province that generated the most income from exports.

For Raffaeli it is just one side of the coin. “In Santiago, more and more dollars are coming in from soybeans, but that also means more deforestation, more expulsion of peasants who have to go live on the outskirts of the big cities, more fumigation that sickens and kills the communities. All this is hidden under the rug because the only criterion for thinking about a development model is that dollars come in. The human cost doesn’t matter.”

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