CURUGUATY, Paraguay — It has been two years since the Marina Kue massacre took the lives of 11 campesinos and six police officers in Curuguaty, a district in eastern Paraguay.
The conflict between riot police and landless sharecroppers was the culmination of a long history of unequal land distribution in the South American republic. The second anniversary of the Curuguaty skirmish has come and gone, and still there has been no impartial investigation into the 17 deaths.
Land conflicts in Paraguay extend all the way back to the War of the Triple Alliance of 1864 to 1870, in which Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil joined forces against Paraguay. In order to pay off debts incurred in the war, the Paraguayan government put large portions of land up for sale to private owners. Additionally, Dictator Alfredo Stroessner distributed 35 million acres of Paraguayan land to cronies from 1954 to 1989, further skewing landholdings in favor of a small number of elite families.
In Paraguay, 91 percent of the rural population cultivates a mere 6 percent of the country’s land, while over 85 percent of land is held by 2.6 percent of the population.
The Marina Kue conflict in July 2012 was triggered when successful businessman and politician Blas N. Riquelme filed a request for the eviction of between 60 and 90 campesinos that had been tending the contested land for over a month. Riquelme held that the presence of the poor farmers on his land amounted to an invasion of private property. The government responded to Riquelme’s call for help by sending 300 riot police to Curuguaty to remove the peasants from the disputed territory.
The campesinos claimed that the land was legally under state ownership, and refused to leave the plot without proof of Riquelme’s rightful possession. Tension between police and farmers escalated and the groups began to exchange gunfire. The scramble ended with the arrest of 14 campesinos, who were subsequently accused of murder. Suspiciously, even two years later, not one of the police officers, who responded to the situation with military-grade force, has been charged with the deaths of the peasants. In fact, some of the arrested campesinos were charged with killing their own family members.
Amnesty International has expressed that it is appalled by the lack of impartial investigation into the deaths and responsibilities on each side of the Marina Kue conflict. Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Director for the Americas Programme at Amnesty International, affirmed that “justice cannot be served without a full investigation into the role of the police as well as the peasants involved. Without such an investigation, there is a real risk of impunity for those responsible for these tragic deaths.”