Thousands protest the impeachment of Fernando Lugo
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous organ of the Organisation of American States (OAS), held a hearing on the “general situation of human rights in Paraguay” in Washington, US, on Friday and various Paraguayan organisations brought grievances to address.
Among the most important issues presented were the Curuguaty Massacre of last June and the so-called ‘parliamentary coup’ against Fernando Lugo last year. The organisations demanded that the commission urge Paraguayan state investigation into the allegations of torture in the Curuguaty incident.
They also asked for clarification regarding the procedure for the seizure of lands belonging to the Cuyabia indigenous community. The same request was made on the continuous felling of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode Natural and Cultural Heritage Site.
The organisations alerted the Commission to the recent murders of three farming leaders. They also asked them to help get the threats against human rights advocates in the country under control.
The Commission received the complaints of the Human Rights Coordination of Paraguay, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights, the Peace and Justice Coordination of Paraguay, and Rural and Indigenous Women Workers of Paraguay, among others.
Story courtesy of Agencia Púlsar, the AMARC-ALC news agency. (photo courtesy of anticapitalistes.net)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder in Paraguay of human rights defender Vidal Vega, leader of the Campesinos sin Tierra movement (Landless Campesinos) and president of the Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Curuguaty Massacre and urges the State of Paraguay to investigate and clear up these crimes, and punish those who perpetrated and masterminded them.
According to IACHR information, on December first, 2012, two individuals arrived aboard a motorcycle at the home of Vidal Vega. Police information quoted in news reports indicates the victim’s spouse, María Cristina Argüello, answered the door: the two unknown men asked for Vidal Vega and shot him with 12-caliber rifles, in the presence of his family.
The information received also indicates that Vidal Vega was a key witness in an investigation into the Curuguaty massacre, which happened on 15 June 2012, and where 11 peasants and 6 policemen died. The massacre took place during a raid on Campos Morombí, Marina Cue, lands in litigation between the State and private parties.
These events led to the impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, who ended up being removed from office. It was also reported that Vidal Vega was the person responsible for the safekeeping of the documents related to proceedings by the Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Curuguaty Massacre before the National Institute of Rural Development and Land for the adjudication of the “Marina Cue” lands.
The IACHR calls to mind that it is the State’s obligation to proactively investigate acts of this nature and punish those responsible. The Commission also urges the State of Paraguay to immediately and urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and safety of human rights defenders in the country, particularly those who work in the Campesinos sin Tierra movement and on the Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Curuguaty Massacre.
As the Commission has stated previously, the acts of violence and other attacks perpetrated against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees that belong to every human being, but undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those for whom they fight defenceless.
The IACHR also calls to mind that the work of human rights defenders is essential to the construction of a solid and lasting democratic society, and that they play a leading role in the process of pursuing the full attainment of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.
- Paraguay peasant leader shot dead (bbc.co.uk)
Venezuela has become a full member of the Mercosur regional trading bloc following a six-year-long delay.
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is now set to take part in a ceremony in Brasilia, which celebrates Caracas’ membership in the South American trade bloc.
The visit to Brasilia will be Chavez’s first official trip abroad in a year after his being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011 and his treatment process in Cuba.
Mercosur is an economic union and political agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay founded in 1991. Its purpose is to promote free trade and the fluid movement of goods, people, and currency.
The bloc’s combined market encompasses more than 250 million people and accounts for more than three-quarters of the economic activity on the continent, or a combined GDP of USD 1.1 trillion.
Although the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay had approved Venezuela’s admission into the bloc in 2006, the accession was delayed pending ratification by the Paraguayan congress.
This is while Paraguay has recently been suspended from the group over the controversial dismissal of President Fernando Lugo.
The lower house of the Paraguayan congress impeached Lugo on June 21. The senate opened his trial a day later and quickly reached a guilty verdict, ousting the president.
Mercosur’s leaders did not impose economic sanctions on Paraguay, but banned Paraguayan officials from participating in the bloc’s meetings.
Paraguay’s suspension created an opportunity for Venezuela to be incorporated into the bloc since the opposition in the Paraguayan congress was the only obstacle to Caracas’ membership.
- Venezuela to join Mercosur on July 31 (alethonews.wordpress.com)
A group of US generals reportedly visited Paraguay for a meeting with legislators on June 22 to discuss the possibility of building a military base in the Chaco region, which borders on Bolivia in western Paraguay. The meeting coincided with the Congress’s sudden impeachment the same day of left-leaning president Fernando Lugo, who at times has opposed a US military presence in the country. In 2009 Lugo cancelled maneuvers that the US Southern Command was planning to hold in Paraguay in 2010 as part of its “New Horizons” program.
More bases in the Chaco are “necessary,” rightwing deputy José López Chávez, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Defense, said in a radio interview. Bolivia, governed by socialist president Evo Morales, “constitutes a threat for Paraguay, due to the arms race it’s developing,” according to López Chávez. Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the sparsely populated Chaco from 1932 to 1935, the last major war over territory in South America.
The US has been pushing recently to set up military bases in the Southern Cone, including one in Chile and one in Argentina’s northeastern Chaco province, which is close to the Paraguayan Chaco, although it doesn’t share a border with Paraguay [see Update #1129]. Unidentified military sources say that the US has already built infrastructure for its own troops in Paraguayan army installations near the country’s borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil; for example, an installation in Mariscal Estigarribia, some 250 km from Bolivia, has a runway almost 3.8 km long, in a country with a very limited air force.
*Translated by Weekly News Update
The South American trade bloc Mercosur has announced that Venezuela will become a full member of the group on July 31.
On Friday, at a summit meeting in Mendoza, a small city in western Argentina, Mercosur leaders also agreed to extend Paraguay’s suspension over the dismissal of President Fernando Lugo until constitutional order is restored, Reuters reported.
The lower house of the Paraguayan Congress impeached Lugo on June 21, and the Senate opened his trial on June 22 and quickly reached a guilty verdict, ousting Lugo.
Mercosur leaders did not impose economic sanctions on Paraguay but banned Paraguayan officials from participating in Mercosur meetings.
Paraguay’s suspension created an opportunity for Venezuela to be incorporated into the bloc since opposition in the Paraguayan Congress was the only obstruction after a six-year wait.
Although the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay approved Venezuela’s admission into the bloc in 2006, its status remained in limbo as the agreement depended on ratification by the Paraguayan Congress.
“We’re calling on the entire region to recognize the need to expand our union so we can confront this crisis… caused by rich countries, but which will affect our economies regardless,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said at the summit.
“(We need to) develop the incredible potential that South America has in terms of food and agriculture, minerals, energy, and science and technology,” she added.
Mercosur is an economic union and political agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay founded in 1991. Its purpose is to promote free trade and the fluid movement of goods, people, and currency.
The bloc’s combined market encompasses more than 250 million people and accounts for more than three-quarters of the economic activity on the continent, or a combined GDP of $1.1 trillion.
- Mercosur suspends Paraguay from trade bloc over Lugo ouster (alethonews.wordpress.com)
South American foreign ministers have suspended Paraguay from the regional trade bloc, Mercosur, over last week’s ouster of former President Fernando Lugo.
However, the bloc stopped short of imposing economic sanctions on Paraguay, which is one of the four founding members of the Mercosur bloc, along with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
Paraguay was banned from this week’s summit held in Mendoza, Argenita, as the regional leaders considered the removal of the country’s first left-wing president as a parliamentary coup.
“Through a unanimous decision by Mercosur’s permanent and associate members, it has been decided– because of the events that occurred last Friday– to suspend Paraguay’s participation in this presidential summit,” Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said on Friday at a news conference.
Last week Paraguay’s Senate removed Lugo from office after a five-hour impeachment trial. He was accused of mishandling an armed clash over a land dispute in which seven police officers and ten landless farmers were killed on June 15.
Lugo was immediately replaced by his pro-US deputy, Federico Franco. The move has prompted harsh criticism inside the country and among its neighboring nations.
South American officials said that the suspension of Paraguay will stand until “democracy is fully restored” to the country.
Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced his concerns over what happened in Paraguay, saying that his country will not “recognize a dictatorship in paraguay.”
Several South American nations have recalled their ambassadors from Paraguay’s capital Asuncion, permanently or for consultation, in a bid to show their opposition to the dismissal of a democratically elected president.
- Paraguay faces expulsion from Mercosur/Unasur, economic isolation (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has just been removed from office by Congress through political impeachment, an express trial that lasted only 24 hours. This manoeuvre must be seen as a coup to the democratic process started in 2008. Social movements are protesting in front of Congress as well as in various parts of the country.This plot by the major Paraguayan political parties has to be interpreted as the last step of a process of political destabilization in the country started with the massacre of Curuguaty last June 15th.
The facts from Curuguaty seem to show a high-level plot and operation by the opposition. The massacre that occurred in a camp of the landless peasants during a police operation left a toll of 17 dead, 11 peasants and 6 police officers, and 80 wounded. There are 54 people arrested facing very serious charges.
We will try to explain now the chain of events that have shaken the country from the Curuguaty deaths to Lugo’s overthrow today.
Background to the Curuguaty events
The Canindeyú department in the northeast part of Paraguay is a border region with Brazil with a high concentration of land in the hands of soy agribusinesses, marijuana cultivation and drugs and weapons smuggling.
Blas N. Riquelme is one of the richest people in the country, former Colorado Senator, large landowner with supermarket chains and many other food companies. Blas N. Riquelme was fraudulently given 50 thousand hectares of land, which were meant for poor peasants of the agrarian reform, during the Stroessner Dictatorship in 1969. This case of ill-gotten land was reported in the Report of the Truth and Justice Commission in 2008.
Since the fall of the Dictatorship in 1989, local peasants have been fighting to get these lands back. Two months ago a group of 60 landless peasants occupied two thousand hectares of the lands in an area called Marina Cue. These people did not belong to any specific peasant organization.
The Curuguaty massacre
On Friday June 15, two groups of law enforcement officers, the GEO Special forces and the police, entered Marina Cue with only a search warrant. The first group went to the camp to talk with the peasants. The police group suspiciously positioned itself behind. Surprisingly, in a confused event, long distance shots were fired. The first persons to fall were the chief and the deputy chief of the GEO forces.
During the ensuing battle, helicopters with reinforcements from the Special Operations Forces arrived and dispersed the peasants with flamethrowers and tear gas. The result of the battle was 11 peasants and 6 policemen dead.
In the first 24 hours after these events, police and soldiers surrounded and closed the area not letting anybody in. A first group of human rights advocates from Asuncion was detained by the police for several hours. In the Capital peasant leaders remained on alert, and in Curuguaty locals complained of law enforcement hunting down all survivors of the gunfight and any peasant activists in the area. Police burned the camp, erasing all evidence. During this period no prosecutors entered the area to observe what happened and collect evidence. It is assumed that during this time the police removed dead bodies and destroyed any proof.
Injured people, who went to health centers, were detained and placed in isolation cells in police stations. Some relatives and local people, who went to the health centers or to the police stations in order to get information on the victims, were also arrested. Lawyers and human rights organizations were not allowed access.
On Saturday, 16 family members, activists and media members crossed the police cordon and entered the peasant camp to search for survivors and wounded who might still be hiding. Indigenous people from the area helped with the search operation. Throughout the weekend there was heavy rain which made the operation almost impossible; regardless, they found 2 peasant bodies. According to information provided by human rights and peasant organizations: “these bodies were moved from where they were killed because there was no blood in the vicinity. They were also dressed as alleged guerilla-snipers and showed signs of recent torture and execution, with fresh blood and bullet wounds in the head and neck, and the weapons that are beside them are shotguns that could not have been used, since they are short distance weapons that shoot pellets, that do not match the long-distance wounds of the dead policemen.”
The search committee found traces of weapons of war, weapons which are not used by peasants. The suspicion is that, besides the landless peasant group, there was another infiltrated group which ambushed and killed the police. Peasant witnesses confirm this information, reporting that another group of men had camped nearby during the previous days, carrying heavy weapons and that these were the shooters. Their actions do not correspond to the methods used by peasants in their struggle for land. Questions arise about who these people might be: Could they be thugs tied to Blas Riquelme, border mafia, paramilitaries, or guerrillas? What seems to be clear is that they are not among those killed, detained or charged. Much of the evidence that could have helped identify them has also been eliminated.
Meanwhile, the prosecution presents charges against 54 people. Most are members of peasant organizations and relatives of the deceased who were not in the peasant camp at the time of the massacre. The charges are every serious, such as aggravated homicide and intentional murder, in addition to charges of invasion of private property, which carry sentences of up to 30 years in prison.
Only 12 people are currently arrested and charged, several of them are in jail. There are several minors, including a 16-year-old wounded girl and her infant child. The detainees have signs of torture, and several were arrested when they went to the police inquiring on friends and relatives. The situation of helplessness and defenselessness makes the locals dare not leave their homes. There is a non-declared state of siege in Curuguaty.
The prisoners are kidnapped by the police
On Sunday June 17th, Presidential Cabinet Secretary Miguel Angel Lopez Perito and Health Minister Esperanza Martinez went to Curuguaty to personally evaluate the matter. Previously, the police moved the detainees out of the police stations to other detention centers, so that the two Ministers could not see them. The detainees were literally kidnapped by the police.
Assembly meetings are held between civil servants (funcionarios?), family and social movements where they present their demands, which are:
1. End to the persecution and release of all prisoners;
2. Compensation for the families of the victims,
3. Recovery of ill-gotten lands of Marina Cue for the creation of a model peasant settlement
At a conference on June 19th, Emilio Camacho, auditor of the Paraguayan Land Institute (INDERT), confirmed that Blas Riquelme did not have the title to the 2,000 hectares; the ongoing ownership trial is still unresolved. This makes evident the irregularity and partiality (to landed interests) of the Paraguayan judiciary system: search warrants and eviction orders are signed without land titles.
Lugo hands over the repressive apparatus to the Colorados
Because of what happened in Curuguaty, Lugo replaced Interior Minister Carlos Filizzola naming as his replacement the former Attorney General, Candia Amarilla. During his tenure as State Prosecutor, Amarilla was characterized by his persecution and criminalization of social sectors.
Amarilla was trained in Colombia and is one of the promoters of the implementation of Plan Colombia in Paraguay. He is also a member of the Colorado Party. To make matters worse, Lugo replaced the National Director of Police and put in his place the chief who was in charge of the police operation in Curuguaty, the Commissioner Moran Arnaldo Sanabria. Both officials are publicly rejected by the social movements and several political sectors. Amarilla announced the end of the “protocol” in eviction operations, implemented by the previous Minister, consisting of dialogue with civil society organizations prior to operations. Amarilla states that his mandate will be the enforcement of the law with a strong arm.
With these two appointments, Lugo hands over the repressive apparatus into the hands of the Colorado Party. It is evident that he negotiated these nominations to avoid political impeachment. However, by doing this, he got the Liberal Party against him, which in turn negotiated with the Colorado Party and the Oviedistas to carry out the political impeachment.
On Thursday June 21st, a popular mobilization was called in front of the lands of Marina Cue. Over a thousand people were present with the objective of re-occupying the property until the detained people are freed and the land of Marine Cue returned to its rightful owners, landless peasants.
That same morning, the Colorado and Liberal parties suddenly agreed with the Oviedistas to impeach Lugo. In a few hours the impeachment process was set in motion by both houses, giving the president two hours on Friday to defend himself.
On Thursday, social movements called for mass mobilization in front of the Congress. Thursday night, 2000 people slept in the square in front of the Congress and people from all over the country started arriving in Asuncion. In several parts of the country, peasant organizations blocked roads.
On Friday afternoon, after an absurd and circus-like session in the Senate, Lugo is impeached. Paraguayan parliamentarians finally destroyed the democratization process that started with the electoral victory of Lugo. Upon hearing the verdict the first wave of repression started in the square outside the Congress. It marks only the beginning of what is being orchestrated against social movements and especially the peasant movement.
International solidarity can play a crucial role in the defense of Human Rights of the popular sectors in Paraguay. We call on all social organizations to be on alert to the situation in this country.
* Translation Lilian Joensen
President Cristina Fernández assured on Friday night that “Argentina does not condone the coup in Paraguay” and anticipated that “appropriate measures” will be taken at next week’s Mercosur Summit, scheduled to take place in Mendoza.
The Argentine leader also said that Unasur expressed a unanimous voice regarding the impeachment process that removed President Fernando Lugo from office on Friday.
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff also suggested that Paraguay could be expulsed from Mercosur and Unasur since the two organizations have clauses in support of democratic rules and governance.
Speaking at a press conference before addressing the UN Rio+20 summit Rousseff said there “are anticipated sanctions for those who do not comply with the principles that characterize democracy” but admitted Paraguay was going through “a complicated situation”.
When a country violates the democratic clause the sanction is “non participation in multilateral bodies; that is expulsion from Mercosur and Unasur”.
Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa anticipated that his government “will not recognize any other Paraguayan president but Fernando Lugo”, and independently of the decisions from Lugo and Unasur “Ecuador will not recognize the new president”, Federico Franco, named by Congress.
“We are not going to remain idle to the advance of these type of issues in our region because what happened in Paraguay is absolutely illegitimate” and recalled the democratic clause from Unasur which enables the regional block to act when against the rupture of democratic order in any member country.
“What has happened in Paraguay is a big farce disguised as legality but it is totally unacceptable that the decision to oust a president was taken in 24 hours ignoring his right to due process and defence”, added Correa.
Venezuelan Foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said in Asuncion that a meeting of Unasur heads of state will take place soon to decide on the Paraguayan case, which he described as “absolutely shameful”.
Maduro is in Paraguay as one of the Unasur Foreign ministers’ delegation sent to try and mediate in the political crisis.
Unasur ministers cautioned that if due process was not respected “this would mean the rupture of cooperation of Unasur, Mercosur and Celac with Paraguay” which involves among other things cutting of subsidized fuel, limiting communications and commercial dealings.
Unasur Secretary General Ali Rodriguez said in a release that country members “will assess how it can be possible to continue cooperation with Paraguay in the framework of South American integration”, if the impeachment process ignores due process and the right to defence.
“The foreign ministers mission reaffirms its total solidarity with the Paraguayan people and its support for constitutional president Fernando Lugo”, underlined Ali Rodrigues.
Venezuela’s Maduro said that “we came (to Paraguay) with the best of willingness and open minds to help but disappointingly we were not listened by those making the decision”.
“There is an evident breaking down of constitutional order” pointed out Maduro who added the delegation arrived in Asunción “to support Paraguayan democracy, the Paraguayan people and the constitutional president Fernando Lugo”.
Maduro claims lawmakers listened in “silence and with indifference” to the Unasur request for respect to due process in the impeachment of the head of state.
- Rousseff suggests expulsion of Paraguay’s Mercosur and Unasur (ireport.cnn.com)
- Paraguayan Senate impeaches leftist president, causing international uproar (weeklyintercept.blogspot.com)
UNASUR Requests President’s Defense Guarantees
The secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Alí Rodríguez of Venezuela, said yesterday that guarantees ensuring a proper defense should be established in the proceedings against Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo.
Rodríguez said that due process must be respected in the case against the head of state, including providing the necessary time to prepare his defense.
The head of UNASUR and the foreign ministers of member states met Thursday night with President Lugo to analyze the destabilization attempts against his government.
The Paraguayan parliament, controlled by right-wing parties, approved a political trial against the head of state, a measure Lugo has called “unconstitutional.”
In declarations reported on by the news agency IP, UNASUR chief Rodríguez said that “UNASUR’s greatest concern is the legitimate exercise of democracy, and within that, that there be a guiding principal of the administration of justice and conditions, [which is] absolutely indispensable.”
Rodríguez explained that UNASUR member states respect the sovereignty of Paraguay but that the problems concerning democracy in that country affect all of South America.
He said he will meet with diverse political sectors in Paraguay to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Paraguay’s congress requested yesterday, with 76 votes in favor and 1 against, a political trial against the president to attempt to link him to clashes last week in Curuguatay in which 11 farmers and six police officers were killed.
President Lugo will present his defense before Parliament at noon today. Afterward, evidence will be brought forward at 2:30 in the afternoon, allegations will be heard an hour later and sentencing will take place at 4:30.
Venezuelan Government Reaction
Vice-president Elias Jaua described the attempt by the Chamber of Deputies of Paraguay to topple President Fernando Lugo as a new attack sourcing from the bourgeoisie and the United States. During a ceremony to deliver resources to the state of Miranda, Jaua denounced the sectors trying to weaken the South American revolutionary process.
“The battle of the Paraguayan people is that of the Venezuelans, and we are committed to thwart this new attempt by the oligarchies and imperialism as we did in Venezuela in 2002, and also when they tried to topple Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador),” he said.
In Jaua’s opinion, it is all about the struggle of the peoples and governments so that the will of the peoples of the region is respected and about “letting imperialism know that our Latin America is no longer their backyard,” he said.
“Here we have a people and a government ready to defend the sovereignty and independence of all the countries in the region,” stressed Jaua.
- Clashes after Paraguay president ousted (Aletho News)
Paraguayans have clashed with police outside the Congress building in Asuncion, shortly after it was announced that the Senate had voted to remove President Fernando Lugo from office.
The lower house of the Paraguayan Congress impeached Lugo on Thursday, and the Senate opened his trial on Friday and quickly reached a guilty verdict, ousting Lugo.
Lugo was immediately replaced by Vice President Federico Franco, a ferocious opponent of the leftist leader. Franco was sworn in as the new president of Paraguay on Friday evening.
“Although the law’s been twisted like a fragile branch in the wind, I accept Congress’ decision,” Lugo said in a speech on national television after lawmakers found him guilty of performing his duties badly during a land dispute that left 17 people dead.
He added that “the history of Paraguay and its democracy have been deeply wounded.”
“Today I retire as president, but not as a Paraguayan citizen,” he said. “May the blood of the just not be spilled.”
After a five-hour trial, 39 senators voted to oust Lugo, while four senators voted against the motion, and two were absent. He was accused of mishandling an armed clash over a land dispute in which seven police officers and ten landless farmers were killed on June 15.
Earlier, Lugo had said the entire impeachment process was equivalent to a coup.
“It is more than a coup d’etat, it’s a parliamentary coup dressed up as a legal procedure,” an angry Lugo said on Paraguayan radio.
After the Senate announced the decision, several thousand Lugo supporters took to the streets to condemn the move and express support for the man they still view as the president of the country. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used water cannon to disperse the protesters.
The breakneck speed of the impeachment process raised concerns in other South American capitals, and a few dispatched their foreign ministers to Asuncion. Some countries even warned of the possibility of imposing sanctions on Paraguay.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced that his government would not recognize Franco as president.
“The government of Ecuador will not recognize any president of Paraguay other than Fernando Lugo,” said Correa, adding “true democracy is based on legality and legitimacy.”
- Venezuela Decries Attempted Coup in Paraguay (Aletho News)
According to some media sources, the police, and the landowner’s association of Paraguay, a group of agents was attacked when it entered the estate of a millionaire in order to evict landless campesinos. For the campesinos, it was a slaughter.
The death of 18 people, among them 11 campesinos, occurred last Friday when police cleared, without prior dialogue, an estate occupied by landless campesinos in the northeast of Paraguay, in an area near the Brazilian border. It was a “slaughter, and we have information that there are more dead comrades in the woods¨reported the representative of a campesino organization, while the spokeswoman of another group warned of a plan to destabilize the government of President Fernando Lugo.
“What happened was a slaughter of our comrades. Many lies are being told to discredit the campesinos, who are struggling to obtain their own land to work, who are fighting for the rights given to them by land reform. I confirm that up to now, 11 comrades have been murdered,” declared Damasio Quiroga, general secretary of the Paraguayan Campesino Movement, by telephone with the newspaper Página/12.
“I’m speaking to you from where the slaughter took place. We were 300 comrades of several organizations from the department of Canindeyú. We have information that there are more dead comrades, we were told there are injured, and we also knew that some being held captive were executed,” recounted Quiroga.
The version of events from the media and police is that a group of agents was attacked when it entered the estate of millionaire Blas Riquelme – who was linked to, and enriched by, former dictator Alfredo Stroessner – which was being occupied by members of the Carperos Campesino Movement. [Translator’s note: Carperos are landless campesinos struggling to obtain land promised to them by land reform.] The Rural Association of Paraguay adds to this tale the “certain” link between the farmworkers and the guerillas of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP): “This fact, plus the use of automatic weapons and explosive devices, suggests something more than a simple group of landless campesinos. It was a heavily armed and organized group, capable of dealing a fatal blow to regular police forces.”
It is an implausible version of the facts, given that the composition of victims so far indicates that there were more dead among rural farmworkers (11) than police (7); the latter group included two members of the Special Operations Group.
The account by campesino Quiroga differs from that offered by most of the media, the police and the landowner’s association. “There is no truth to the claim that there were automatic weapons in our comrades’ camp. I can tell you, comrade, that we have no connection to any guerrillas; for us, the EPP does not exist. They are inventing the story to discredit campesinos when they organize better, because we do not want to continue hoping that someday the ill-gotten lands will be given to us, we campesinos are fighting for our rights.”
— You say, “They invented the story.” Who do you mean?
— The landowners and the police; they are together in all of this. This new police chief, appointed by Lugo, is very dangerous, very corrupt, with formal complaints against him.
The National Organization of Independent Indigenous Peoples wrote in a communiqué: “The use of violence is a mechanism that state institutions like the police, military and prosecutor’s office always use to protect national and transnational businessmen and big landowners, always to the benefit of the private sector.”
The tension between campesinos and landowners, a sector where Brazilian soy producers predominate, has grown since Fernando Lugo became president in 2008. He had promised to move forward with land reform and resolve the problem of “ill-gotten lands,” large expanses of state lands that former dictator Stroessner distributed among military officials and his followers. One such follower is the wealthy Blas Riquelme, the “Paraguayan Carlos Slim,” according to the definition of Martín Almada, the leading human rights activist in the country.
A former bishop, Lugo once counted on the campesinos as his main social and electoral support. But they no longer support him as they once did.
Quiroga told this newspaper: “We have given up believing in the president; he is not keeping his promises. After this slaughter he appointed people who are corrupt and who have very bad backgrounds. The government that promised to carry out land reform is forgetting its pledge and is appointing corrupt Coloradans.”
The reference is to the appointment of Rubén Candia Amarilla to the Ministry of the Interior. Candia Amarilla, a member of Stroessner’s Colorado Party, promised to use a firm hand against the campesinos and announced that from now on, the evictions from occupied estates will be carried out without the establishment of dialogue with the carperos.
“Lugo had to take a step back and accept people from the Colorado Party. It was an imposition by the more reactionary groups, leaving a sector of the campesinos dissatisfied with the president; this is true. And at the same time there are other campesinos who still have confidence in him and support him, albeit as a lesser evil, because if he falls now without completing his mandate, which ends in 2013, it will be a victory for conservative forces,” said Martín Almada, who believes that a plan to destabilize Lugo is in progress.
The clash provoked a political tsunami in Paraguay, with unforeseen repercussions to come over the fate of the first government without links to the Stroessner regime since the end of the dictatorship. “The situation remains red-hot here; the Right is very involved in all of this,” said Magui Balbuena, of the National Committee for the Recovery of Ill-Gotten Lands.
A communiqué from that committee stated: “The slaughter in the department of Camindeyú was the result of a historic class conflict in Paraguayan society, the product of the support of the three branches of state, of a system of accumulation and hoarding of land in the hands of a few… The violence will continue if we do not initiate, once and for all, the return of lands belonging to the Paraguayan people that today are in the hands of persons not subject to land reform.”
*Translation by Jim Rudolf
- Paraguayan president vows to fight impeachment effort (Aletho News)
Paraguayan leftist President Fernando Lugo has said he would not resign after the opposition-controlled lower house of Congress voted for his impeachment over last week’s land clashes with farmers.
President Lugo pledged on Thursday to stand and fight the impeachment proceedings led by his congressional rivals over a land eviction in which 17 people died.
“This president announces that he is not going to present his resignation and that he will fully respect the constitution and the law to face the impeachment trial and its full consequences,” he said in a televised speech right after the vote.
However, he also said that “this is an ‘express’ coup because (lawmakers) have done this in the wee hours of the night. They have gotten together, and we believe this is even unconstitutional because it doesn’t respect due process.”
After the lower house overwhelmingly approved the move, the Senate, which is also controlled by the opposition, followed suit, announcing the impeachment hearing will begin on Friday.
Seven police officers and nine landless farmers died in a clash on last Friday, when police attempted to forcibly remove peasants from the farm, which is owned by a Colorado Party politician opposed to President Lugo.
Right after the incident Lugo replaced his interior minister and national police chief. He also said on Wednesday that he would set up a committee to investigate the deadly clashes.
Lugo, who took power on pledges to champion the poor, accused his rivals of planning to “rob the people of their supreme decision” when they elected him in 2008 to put an end to six decades of ruling by the right-wing Colorado Party.
Under Paraguay’s constitution, if Lugo is booted from presidency, his vice president Federico Franco will replace him. Franco is the leader of Authentic Radical Liberal Party that formed a coalition with Lugo after the elections.
The next presidential election will be in April 2013. Lugo, who was under cancer treatment, earlier said that he would not seek another term.
- Lugo: “I will abide but resist” (Aletho News)