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PARAGUAY
Curuguaty cause continues
Gustavo Torres
9/29/2016
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Unilateral judicial process hands down sentence only for the deaths of police officers, but the deaths of farm workers remains unpunished.

Four years after the Curuguaty massacre in the district located in the northeastern department of Canindeyú, event in which 11 peasants and six police officers were killed, the justice system in Paraguay ratified the prison sentences to 11 farmers that range from four to 30 years for the deaths of the police officers.

On June 15, 2012, a squad of over 300 riot police officers went in with an order to evict a camp occupied by 70 families that had taken a public property of 1,748 hectares called Marina Kue, next to the latifundium Campo Morumbi.

Many human rights violations and very serious legal irregularities took place during the police operation, and all this was used one week later as a pretext for the removal from office, by means of a political trial, with all the characteristics of a summary trial, of President Fernando Lugo (2008-2012).

The ruling against the 11 peasants, handed down on July 11, leaves more questions than answers about the criminal liability due to the lack of evidence by the prosecution, a sentence later ratified by the judges, as everyone saw coming, without presenting evidence that the peasants were carrying firearms or even knew how to handle automatic weapons.

According to Articulación por Curuguaty — a network of civil organizations in support of the peasants being tried — that accompanied the trial, as well as independent investigations, the prosecutor’s office did not investigate the facts of the killings, hid photographs, videos, x-rays, casings of automatic weapons bullets and testimonies that contradicted the theory that puts the blame on the farmers, accusing 11 of them of invasion of property, criminal association, wilful murder, while no police officer has been investigated for the deaths of the peasants in Marina Kue.

In the “resistance camp” — set up in the square in front of the Palace of Justice by the families and those people who supported the cause of Curuguaty to demand the annulment of the sentence —Msgr. Mario Melanio Medina, bishop of the Misiones and Ñeembucú dioceses, told Latinamerica Press that they are siding through these actions so that what took place in Curuguaty becomes a national cause and for those honest citizens to demand the release of the prisoners who are convicted innocents.

“The Curuguaty cause is important because it represents the struggle of the peasants who seek justice, claiming the people’s liberation from the factual powers embedded in the State, from the large agriculture and livestock companies who are looking to quash the development of a democratic and inclusive society that benefits the poorest instead of the exclusion model that they propose. All of us must provide support and the Church must take awareness and support this cause in an effective manner,” Medina says.

In this sense, for Margot Bremer, a German nun who has lived in Paraguay for 29 years performing pastoral work with indigenous and peasant communities, what occurred in Curuguaty “represents an unusual inhumanity, where injustice is rampant, so this is something emblematic that infringes on the lives of the peasants and their way of life, considering that 80 percent of arable land is in the hands of only 2 percent of the population that is dedicated to the export of agricultural products.”

During the long oral proceedings, various political, social and cultural personalities such as former President Lugo, accompanied the cause of the Curuguaty victims through marches, debates and statements criticizing the irregularities committed during the investigation process and considering it “biased and self-serving.”

“All the evictions carried out during our government were peaceful; there were more than 60 of these situations when not a single drop of blood was spilled. As far as the procedure, I was told that it would not take more than five minutes; however, it triggered this massacre. The impeachment process that was prompted once the massacre occurred prevented us from asking about what really happened on June 15, 2012; we proposed the creation of an independent inquiry commission, but it was nullified right after the removal,” said former bishop and Senator Lugo to Latinamerica Press.

National and international concern

Senator Hugo Richer, of the leftist opposition coalition Frente Guasu (Guasu Front), member of the Commission on Human Rights of the Senate, said that there is increasing questioning at the national and international level because of the number of weak points present in the judicial process, regarding the rights of the accused.

“No answer was given during the process to what happened in Curuguaty since only the deaths of the police officers were tried and not the deaths of the 11 peasant compatriots; it is a mistake that taints the entire process because it does not provide an end to the story of Curuguaty; does not answer the question of what happened in Curuguaty,” said Richer to Latinamerica Press.

For Richer, the signs of serious irregularities in the process, “resulted in the recommendation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to the Paraguayan government [after their visit to Paraguay on 17 and 18 August] the creation of an independent commission to investigate the events in Curuguaty, which is exactly what President Lugo had suggested nearly a day after the occurrences. The proposal was rejected at that time because the parliamentary coup was already underway, and it turns out now that the proposal comes from the IACHR. The government of President [Horacio] Cartes sent the request through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Senate, which approved the formation of the commission in a general manner, but still to decide is if it is going to be a local or international commission.”

For their part, the bishops of Paraguay at their regular meeting in March 2016 expressed their concern regarding the contradictions presented at the trial in relation to the peasants being tried, recalling that “this denotes an unfair situation and it is necessary that the public bodies ensure the transparency of the process.”

Resistance camp

Relatives, peasant unions, intellectuals, religious leaders, among other people who identify with the cause of the Curuguaty massacre, are part of the resistance camp, a space that is also used as an open platform (popular university) where public lectures, religious ceremonies and product fairs are held. The testimonies of the relatives help to remind us all of a tragedy that expresses feelings of pain, impotence, frustration, sadness and anguish.

“They were convicted without finding them guilty, they are innocent, this situation hurts us deeply, in my case I have to take care of a five-year-old child without the protection of the father, were are abandoned now; that is the reason why we insist, we will chain ourselves down in this camp until we obtain their freedom, we will continue fighting because we know they are innocent, they did not kill anyone, they are working people who were sentenced unfairly for the mere fact that they long for a piece of land to support their families, we believe that we will win their freedom. We are strong because there are caring people who stand firmly on our side; therefore, we are not alone facing these criminal judges and prosecutors, who come to bring to trial and raffle off our country, especially against those innocent companions, victims of the Curuguaty massacre,” says Ramona González, wife of Néstor Castro, sentenced to 18 years.

Raquel Villalba, wife of Rubén Villalba, one of the main leaders of Marina Kue who was sentenced to 30 years in prison plus five years of probation, told of the hardships they went through and go through now during the trial process and post-conviction.

“Here we are standing firm, our goal is to achieve the release of our colleagues, and that we can soon return to our homes; we visit them in prison frequently, they are in good spirits, they are strong, strengthened. We are confident that through the struggle we are going to be able to demonstrate the innocence of our companions to the people, our goal will always be to again recover Marina Kue as our companions have been doing for a year now; they are again producing in the land where our martyrs poured out their blood, because these lands are ours, these are public lands. As we all know, there is no justice in our country; and this is demonstrated with what happened to the victims of the Curuguaty massacre, how they were unfairly arrested and convicted. Today, it is clear that there is no justice in Paraguay, but we hope that, as a result of the struggle, the desired justice is achieved at some point in the history of Paraguay.”
— Latinamerica Press.


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Msgr. Mario Melanio Medina, bishop of Misiones and Ñeembucú diocese, in the “resistance camp.” / Gustavo Torres
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