Yesterday, July 26, the Criminal Court of Paraguay’s Supreme Court unanimously overturned the 2016 conviction of eleven farmers, including three women, for what has become known as the “Curuguaty massacre.” The Court ordered that the farmers be released immediately, on the grounds that the investigation and criminal proceedings had had serious weaknesses, and declared that it had not been proven that the farmers took part in the crimes for which they were tried (trespassing, criminal association and intentional homicide).
The document also questions the work of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, echoing numerous allegations made by local and international organizations over the last six years, pointing to grave irregularities, the absence of an investigation into the death of eleven farmers, and suspicion of torture and summary executions during the 2012 police operation.
“The Curuguaty case overall shows the profound injustices and violence behind the concentration of land in a few hands,” said Simon Ticehurst, Oxfam’s regional director in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In 2014 Oxfam, together with a broad range of community organizations, promoted a campaign to support the petition calling for land for the rural families affected by the Curuguaty case. Despite international pressure, the government failed to provide the communities with an answer.
In Paraguay 90 percent of the land belongs to some 12,000 large landowners, while the remaining 10 percent is split up between 280,000 small-scale and medium-scale farmers, according to the study entitled Yvy Jára. Los dueños de la tierra en Paraguay, published by Oxfam in 2016.
In this context of such profound inequality in land distribution, over 120 smallholders in Curuguaty –including a number of victims and relatives of victims of the violent eviction in 2012– have spent twelve years calling for the use of public lands for housing and food crops, as part of the land reform written into Paraguay’s Constitution.
“The overturning of the farmers’ conviction is a great step forward in the struggle for justice. We expect the government to launch a comprehensive, impartial and independent investigation into the Curuguaty case without delay, in the terms recommended by the UN Human Rights Council, and to guarantee full reparation for all the people affected, including access to the land for rural families”, said Ticehurst.
Notes to editors
The land-grabs that led up to the “Curuguaty massacre” took place in the Canindeyú department on the border with Brazil, where most of Paraguay’s soybean crop production comes from and which is frequently the scene of crimes linked to drug-trafficking and other illegal activities. Left to the Paraguayan government in 1967, the land of Marina Kue was fraudulently appropriated by a soybean-producing company that owned large tracts of land. The land ownership dispute has still not been resolved, although the case is pending in the civil justice system.
The rural families, who are also demanding the government-owned land, were violently evicted on 15 June, 2012, when 17 people died, including six policemen. The subsequent investigation focused only on the police deaths but not those of the farmers, and concluded by convicting the farmers to as much as 30 years in prison. The ruling issued yesterday (July 26) by the Supreme Court overturned that conviction, acquitting Rubén Villalba, Luis Olmedo Paredes, Néstor Castro, Arnaldo Quintana, Lucía Agüero, María Fani Olmedo, Dolores López, Juan Carlos Tillería, Alcides Ramón Ramírez, Adalberto Castro and Felipe Benítez Balmori.
Many local and international organizations have reported the irregularities in the criminal proceedings and police investigation of the massacre, primarily that none of the police were even investigated, although there are clear indications that the police executed nine farmers during the tragic eviction. The episode is part of what human rights organizations call "a systematic plan of executions in the struggle for farmers’ territory". At least 115 farmer leaders and members of farmers’ organizations have been executed and have disappeared in Paraguay over the last 25 years of post-dictatorship governments (1989-2013).