by Diana T. Folla, Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)
On June 15, 2012, over 300 police officers clad in riot gear arrived in Marina Kue in the Curuguaty district of northeastern Paraguay. With horses, rifles and teargas, they came to evict the close to 50 peasants who had been occupying the land. The operation turned into a violent confrontation, in which eleven peasants and six policemen were killed and an undetermined number of people were wounded.
Human rights violations continued after the confrontation; wounded peasants were denied medical attention, others abused and tortured in detention, and several bodies of the deceased were abandoned. The Marina Kue case eventually became a catalyst for the political turmoil that resulted in the removal of President Fernando Lugo.
What happened in Marina Kue? A tainted investigation
Despite public outcry and resulting political cleavages, there has not been an impartial investigation and fair trial of what took place in Marina Kue.
According to the Paraguayan Committee on Human Rights (CODEHUPY)’s report, the investigation has been mired with evidence tampering, omitted autopsies, and the absence of an independent pre-judicial commission.
The trial has been delayed multiple times and the police are enjoying considerable impunity. Two years later, the judiciary investigation has yet to address the murder of the peasants. No police officers have been charged, perpetuating Paraguay’s history of peasant persecution in the interests of elite.
Peasants and Paraguayans resist
The flagrant injustices and police impunity have not gone unchallenged in Paraguay. Five of the imprisoned peasants initiated a 58-day-long hunger strike in early 2014, demanding a fair trial and to be transferred to house arrest. The state’s poor treatment of the ailing prisoners further stoked the flames of public ire and was met with demonstrations and clamors for justice. Religious leaders have also organized vigils and peaceful marches, drawing over a thousand participants in support of freeing the prisoners.
On March 26th 2014, Paraguay witnessed the largest mass protest it has had in twenty years. The broad spectrum of demands included the repeal of the Public Private Partnership Law (APP), which enables the transfer of state resources to private companies. In direct relation to the law, the Marina Kue case was a focal grievance supported by the diverse cross-section of protesters.
The international community has also responded to the hunger strike. Various European organizations have expressed their support for dropping the charges against the peasants; it is expected that others in Europe and beyond will follow suit.
Important Latin American figures have also shown their solidarity with the detained peasants and victims of the Curuguaty massacres. Argentine Nobel Peace Prize recipient Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Colombian activist Piedad Córdoba have written letters of support and visited the country.
A starting point for structural change
The public reaction and solidarity have deep implications for changing the course of human rights in Paraguay. José Tomás Sánchez, former Minister of Public Function in Paraguay, described how the movement around the Marina Kue massacre represents the potential for societal shifts in Paraguay.
“We are engaged with the transformation of society, not only in the sense that we need better public policies but we need to think deeper about what society we need in Paraguay,” he said. “There is a promising future, people are becoming more aware of human rights violations and there are more programmatic discussions now in the country.”
The Marina Kue case has become the symbol of the peasant movement in Paraguay. Paraguayans and the international community are realizing the Curuguaty massacre is not an isolated incident, but a product of a history of criminalizing peasant protest and privileging landowners and police officials.
As the case unfolds, it is bringing to surface critical inequities in Paraguay. Bringing justice to the victims of the massacre and to the detained peasants will set an important precedent of holding Paraguay’s political and criminal justice system accountable and advancing the fight for land reform.