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Tuesday, 30 April 2013 19:40
SOA Watch Issues Report on Paraguay's Election and Human Rights Violations in the Curuguaty Massacre

From April 17th to 22nd, an SOAW (School of the Americas Watch) delegation from the United States visited Paraguay, joining with human rights organizations of the country, in order to better understand the situation there on the ground.

CURUGUATY

The delegation visited the Paraguayan campesinos arrested in the case of the Curuguaty massacre, who are now jailed in the nearby town of Coronel Oviedo.

Eleven campesinos and six police officers died during an attempt to evict landless campesinos, which ended in a hail of bullets in Marina Cue, 250 kilometers northeast of Asuncion.   The 45 campesinos, including women and children, were surrounded by heavily armed district police, a SWAT team and a separate special forces group, plus mounted police, a helicopter with snipers, and by reported paramilitary forces – adding up to over 300 armed officers.  The police were accompanied by at least three ambulances.   The campesinos had occupied the lands that they thought were state lands and thus available for agrarian reform, alleging that these lands had been inappropriately obtained and occupied from the state by Blas Riquelme, a businessman and former Senator (now deceased).

The massacre triggered the impeachment of then-president Fernando Lugo on June 22nd, one week later.  The impeachment has been widely questioned by the international community for blatant disregard of due process.

Recently, the International Human Rights Commission of the United Nations issued a report on Paraguay, expressing its profound concern about the Curuguaty case.  “The information received shows a lack of impartiality in the investigatory process.”  The UN also expressed specific concerns about the recent homicides of Vidal Vega, a campesino leader and the central witness in the case, and of Benjamin Lezcano, general secretary of a local campesino group’s steering committee.

After the massacre, the prosecutor’s office chose to investigate only the campesinos.  There are 14 campesino men accused of criminal association, property invasion, and aggravated homicide.  They were also accused of interfering with the processing of the case.  The official investigation is based on an unidentified witness who maintains that the campesinos ambushed the police.   The jailed campesinos have resorted to hunger strikes in order to demand justice and denounce judicial irregularities.

We consider that the principle trigger for the tragedy of Curuguaty was the violation of the fundamental right to the distribution and possession of lands in an equitable manner, guaranteed under the Agrarian Reformation Act and as stipulated in article 114 of the Paraguayan Constitution.  Also contributory are the unjust social conditions under which Paraguayan campesinos live.  We note the statistic that 80% of cultivatable lands in Paraguay are in the hands of 2% of the landowners, while some 300,000 workers have no land of their own.

We cite again the case of Juana Evangalista Martinez, who lives on a small plot of borrowed land that she is unable to even cultivate.  That her husband was landless led him to make the decision to join the occupants of Marina Cue, 8 days prior to the unexpected massacre “because he wanted to feed his family”, according to his widow in words to us.

Again we cite the case of Luis Olmedo, who lives on a small plot, a site to which his family does not have title nor do they even have the space to have a garden.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:20