The trial of 13 campesinos for their involvement in the so-called Curuguaty massacre began yesterday in Asunción.
The group face charges over their alleged involvement in the violent clashes over land rights between police and campesinos in Curuguaty, western Paraguay, on 15th June 2012.
The shootout left 17 dead – 11 campesinos and six police officers – and triggered the controversial impeachment of then-president Fernando Lugo.
The group faces charges including murder, criminal association, and land invasion, with prosecutors claiming the campesinos opened fire on a police unit ordered to evict them from the contested land. But lawyers for the defendants claim the initial shots were fired by snipers not associated with the group. No investigation has been opened into the deaths of the 11 campesinos or other abuses, despite survivors alleging torture and extra-judicial executions.
On the day in question, around 300 policemen participated in an operation to evict some 70 campesinos who were occupying a disputed terrain. The campesinos in the area claim the land is state property, but the private firm Campos Morombí, also lays claim to the land. The company is owned by the family of late Colorado Party politician Blas N. Riquelme, who was one of the leaders during the Stroessner dictatorship.
State prosecutor Jalil Amir Rachid said the police, some of whom were unarmed, were ambushed when they moved in to carry out the eviction order.
Supporters of the defendants have questioned Rachid for bias due to his ties to the Riquelme family, and the entire proceedings have been surrounded by controversy, with key witnesses killed, the trial postponed three times and defendants participating in a hunger strike for justice.
According to the Articulación por Curuguaty, which brings together various social organisations around the case, foreign experts, lawyers, and indigenous and campesino leaders from around Latin America have travelled to Asunción as international observers to monitor “the respect for human and procedural rights of the judicial process”. Among those attending are Argentines Nora Cortiñas, of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Línea Fundadora, and Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel.
The trial is expected to conclude on 28th August.