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. “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,“ declared Damasio Quiroga, general secretary of the Paraguayan Campesino Movement.
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.”