Politics of Poverty

Courage in Curuguaty: Speaking up about land conflicts in Paraguay

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Photo: www.quepasaenparaguay.info/

Youth with no land = Land with no future.

Stephanie Burgos is a senior policy advisor at Oxfam America.

“My name is Martina Paredes Gonzalez. I am a member of the Committee of Victims of the Massacre of Marina Kue Curuguaty, where my brothers Fermín and Luis were assassinated.”

I watched this young Paraguayan farmer bravely speak these words directly in front of representatives of the Paraguayan government here in Washington, DC, pausing with her voice slightly quivering before she could pronounce the names of her deceased brothers.

Martina Paredes Gonzalez testified recently at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington DC about the assasination of her two brothers during the massacre of Marina Kue Curuguaty. Photo: www.quepasaenparaguay.info

She was one of four witnesses at a hearing two weeks ago titled “Reports of Violence against Peasants in Paraguay” held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during its 153 period of sessions.

Today in Paraguay, Martina spoke again about her brothers, this time in front of media cameras and microphones in Democracy Plaza in the center of Asunción. The press conference was part of a campaign supported by Oxfam to press for justice and the resolution of a land conflict in Curuguaty in eastern Paraguay, where a violent eviction by police ended in a massacre in which 17 people were killed on June 15th, 2012.

Thanks to displays of international solidarity, we no longer feel alone in this struggle,” Paredes said.

The struggle of Martina and her community of nearly 200 small farmer families in Curuguaty, who lack access to land to sustain their livelihoods, received an important boost this week when 11 Members of US Congress, led by Rep. Sam Farr, sent a letter to Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes urging him to “pursue a transparent and fair resolution to this land dispute case, including a full investigation to ensure those responsible for the murders and reported human rights abuses on June 15, 2012 are brought to justice.”

Senator Leahy also spoke eloquently about the problems small farmers face in accessing land in Paraguay. He stressed the importance of a “thorough, independent investigation of the events of June 15” as well as “prosecution of those responsible and a just resolution of the dispute” in the conflict over the land known as Marina kue in the Curuguaty district.

The campaign “Youth with No Land = Land with No Future”, promoted by a broad alliance of Paraguayan civil society organizations and representatives of the affected community in Curuguaty, together with Oxfam, has received broad international support. Over 37,500 people in 60 countries, including the United States, have called on Paraguayan President to hand over the public land of Marina kue to the landless youth of Curuguaty.

The press conference in Paraguay was held this morning in anticipation of the beginning of the public trial of 16 community members of Curuguaty, the only ones accused of crimes during the violent eviction on June 15, 2012 from the land of Marina kue. The trial had been set for Monday, November 17 after being postponed last June. But yesterday afternoon news broke in Paraguay that the Curuguaty trial has once again been postponed, this time until June 2015. The judge in the case said the postponement was due to administrative delays resulting from limited resources. But the word on the street in Paraguay is that there is reluctance to hold such a controversial trial.

This case certainly is controversial!  Not only has there been a lack of due process for the accused community members, there has been no investigation whatsoever into the 11 farmers murdered or the injuries and human rights violations against numerous other community members that occurred that June 15th.

The violent eviction that resulted in the massacre of 11 farmers and six police officers precipitated the impeachment of then President Fernando Lugo, whose election four years earlier had broken the more than 60-year stronghold by the conservative Colorado Party over Paraguay’s government. The eviction was ordered by a local judge based on the assertion that the land of Marina kue belonged to a private company. Yet it has since been recognized that Marina kue is public land, even as the company continues to press its baseless claim in the courts.

A few large landowners in Paraguay (80 percent of agricultural land is held by just 1.6 percent of owners) have reaped big profits through accumulation of huge tracts of land, much of it given away or sold at negligible prices under the 35-year Stroessner dictatorship to friends of the regime. Numerous land conflicts have ensued, as the State has failed to restitute these “ill-gotten” lands to their legitimate use stipulated by agrarian reform laws. So land occupations have become the last resort for the 300,000 family farmers who have no land at all. The 600 largest properties in Paraguay occupy 40 percent of total productive land.

The family farmers in Curuguaty had appealed to the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INDERT) in 2004 to transfer the land of Marina kue to them as land reform beneficiaries. Faced with government inaction, some community representatives occupied the land at various times over the years to bring attention to their appeal. Following complaints by the company that claimed the land, they were repeatedly, though peacefully, evicted. Since the violent eviction and massacre two-and-a-half years ago, the farming families of Curuguaty have been seeking justice.

Today, the affected families of Curuguaty are still waiting for justice. In recent weeks, community representatives, supported by the national civil society alliance, have met with government representatives from INDERT to seek a resolution of the dispute. But there has yet to be a clear proposal on the table that is acceptable to affected families. They are demanding a comprehensive solution that includes the legal transfer of the land of Marina kue to the families of Curuguaty and justice for the victims of the massacre and human rights violations on June 15, 2012.

I hope the interest and concern expressed by Members of US Congress will encourage the government of Paraguay to take swift action to provide land to the landless youth of Curuguaty and deliver justice for the courageous Martina Paredes Gonzalez and the other grieving families.

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