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Mar 20th
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Report from the 2013 Delegation to Paraguay PDF Print E-mail

Observing the Ballot and the Bullets  - by Emily Creigh with Theresa Cameranesi

Tuesday evening, April 16,2013.  The SOA Watch Delegation to Paraguay gathers in an old Asunción hotel, preparing, eager. SOA Watch had been invited to Paraguay as both an election-watch team and a human rights-observing team.  

Image Our goals were to stand in solidarity with the Paraguayan people by observing the presidential election, investigating circumstances surrounding the campesinos falsely imprisoned for a horrendous massacre, which had been used to trigger a coup, and then share our findings with the world.   Theresa Cameranesi, who has lived in the Paraguayan campo on and off for nearly 30 years, was the delegation leader. 

We began by meeting with our inviting sister organization in Asunción, SERPAJ (Servicio de Paz y Justicia).  Over the next week we met with and interviewed torture survivors and their families, human rights and women’s empowerment groups, a judge important in exposing Plan Condor, forensic excavators at a formerly secret dumping ground for extrajudicial police killings, and DECIDAMOS, the extraordinary youth group with whom we would partner to observe the election.

Monitored worldwide, the election was being held 10 months after the “impeachment” of then-President Fernando Lugo.  A massacre of landless peasants in the Curuguaty district triggered Lugo’s ouster in June 2012; many allege the massacre was a setup to discredit and replace Lugo.  If so, it worked, as the elections of April 2013 returned the party of the brutal Stroessner dictatorship to office less than a year after the coup.

The Curuguaty massacre horrified and galvanized our delegation.  To support its victims, we traveled to the area with SERPAJ’s Vidal Acevedo and Dr. Martín Almada, renowned Paraguayan human-rights advocate.   We started at the prison holding three of the young men swept up after the massacre.   After two days and several remote family house-visits, we left the province convinced that all had been innocent bystanders and that the real killers were among the police and paramilitaries. Traveling down remote back roads, we had visited and spoke with a series of families who had members either killed or falsely imprisoned for killings.  As new father Luis told us, “No one imagined killing anyone in Curuguaty. Why then would we have brought our women and our children? We went there simply to look for land to farm, so that we can raise our families.”

The delegation dropped off boxes of provisions with the destitute families and headed to Marina Cue, the actual massacre site next to which landless campesinos now camp under tarps in protest. “Paraguay feeds the world,” they reminded us, “while our own people go hungry.”  They know that Paraguay is the South American country with the greatest inequality of land distribution, where 2% of landowners control 80% of the arable land, and some 87,000 farming families are landless.  The coup that toppled Lugo was a resource war over land.  

The election went off without visible violence, and the Colorado Party, which had ruled Paraguay for 54 years, was returned after only 4 years of opposition.  New President Horacio Cartes is part of the 2% landowning oligarchy and has a questionable past, being imprisoned previously on charges of currency fraud.  The true tragedy of the Curuguaty clash lies not only in the unjustified loss of lives, but also in the government’s sacrifice of agrarian reforms to a power-grabbing ploy.

The following Tuesday the delegation presented our report in a televised press conference, and on Friday to the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner in Paraguay, who promised to advocate at higher UN levels. Now we monitor...and as promised: we publicize.  

Update:  On July 31, 2013 -- more than a year later -- the campesinos accused of the massacre had a preliminary audience in court.  Simultaneously, families of victims of Curuguaty and hundreds of others entered the grounds of the massacre site, for the purpose of founding a settlement to be named “15 de Junio” in tribute to those Paraguayans who died in the struggle for land.


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Download the Spring 2016 issue of Presente

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