While deposed President Fernando Lugo prepares to run for a seat in the Senate this year, the issue of the events that led to the institutional coup that removed him from office are still in many ways unresolved. The political turmoil that led to Lugo’s ouster had its roots in local conflicts in the eastern part of the country between landless peasants and police forces, conflicts that left at least 17 people dead. While 14 farmers were charged in the killings, the police remained uninvestigated in spite of numerous eyewitness accounts that detailed police violence against unarmed farmers. The fact that the government officially insisted only 70 farmers attacked 324 officers without any police retaliation or violence also stretched credibility that farmers were solely responsible for the violence. And recently, the Human Rights Coordinator of Paraguay issued a troubling report detailing the police’s use of violence and resorts to human rights violations:
An independent investigation carried out by CODEHUPY revealed that there was no proportional use of force in the repression. In that investigation, credible eyewitnesses said that at least two peasants, Adolfo Castro and Andrés Avelino Riveros, were executed by police agents when they had surrendered with their hands up. The accounts affirm that Adolfo Castro was holding his young son when police shot him in the head.
Other testimonies contend that several peasants wounded during the repression were executed afterward by police agents, after the shots had already ceased and the security forces already controlled the site.
Obviously, this is significant. First and foremost, there’s the ongoing pattern of police repression and violence against the landless in Paraguay. Additionally, while early reports were confused (and the government’s official account still widely varies from the accounts of eyewitnesses and independent investigations), the Congressional elites who disapproved of democratically-elected Lugo’s policies used the confusion to move against him and impeach him in an extremely hasty process that bordered on unconstitutional. As it has become increasingly clear, Congress really used a pretext of a situation that nobody understood and appears to have been unrelated to anything Lugo actually did as president to remove him from office. It remains unclear whether or not this fact will have any effects on either the presidential and congressional elections in April this year. Nonetheless, the events of last June continue to play out, simultaneously revealing the institutional conflict within Paraguayan politics and the ongoing persecution and even violation of human rights of peasants and the rural poor in Paraguay.