A citizen’s initiative puts the Paraguayan justice system in question

At the launch of the campaign in Madrid, Spaniards and Paraguayan migrants declare themselves observers. (WNV/Paraguay resist in Madrid)

At the launch of the campaign in Madrid, Spaniards and Paraguayan migrants declare themselves observers. (WNV/Paraguay resist in Madrid)

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In Paraguay, a trial is referred to as a “sung sentence” when its outcome has been decided beforehand according to extra-judicial interests. A national and international citizen’s campaign called We Are Observers arose in response to a coming trial with a sung sentence. It was created to monitor the trial the massacre of Curuguaty, which has been postponed for the third time in almost two years. The last date given by the court for it to begin will be July 27, and it will take place in the city of Asunción.

In this trial, the prosecution will try to punish 13 peasants for the Curuguaty massacre. On the morning of June 15, 2012, in the area of Marinakue, around 350 armed police, on foot and on horses, and with a helicopter, entered Marinakue to evict nearly 60 peasants — including women and children — who were occupying the land, demanding that it be returned to the state and redistributed to the people. In the middle of a dialogue between the police officers and a peasant delegation, there was a shooting that ended with 17 people dead, 11 peasants and six policemen. The prosecution only investigated the death of the six police officers. The murder of the peasants wasn’t investigated by the prosecution, despite evidence indicating that the majority of them were executed by the police. That massacre was the trigger for the parliamentary trial that removed then-President Fernando Lugo. This event in Paraguay was called a “parliamentary coup” by the national and international press.

The lack of investigation into the murder of the peasants and many more irregularities are signs of a “sung sentence,” which are common in Paraguayan judicial life. The irregularities cover the whole case, from the collection of evidence to the impeachment proceedings and preliminary hearing. The prosecution concealed evidence, including bullets of police caliber collected at the crime scene. There was no investigation into the allegations of torture and the execution of peasants. Evidence was illegally added — such as a shotgun used as proof of peasants’ weaponry, which was in the hands of its owner far from the crime scene at the time of the massacre — or presented in bulk without any details. Judges held press conferences against the defense lawyers, who are currently under investigation on request by the judge that led the preliminary hearing in 2013.

In May, ordinary Paraguayan people and a group of well-known figures — including artists, actors, religious figures, feminists, academics and intellectuals — launched a campaign proposing that the whole society become “observers” of this critical trial to ensure that it is public, respectful of due procedure and transparent. We Are Observers argues that the presence of prominent individuals, who will be rotating to attend and observe the trial, will help prevent a “sung sentence.”

“Injustice couldn’t be done if the people state that we are paying attention,” said Sandra González, an activist involved with the campaign. “Each citizen that believes in justice can and should participate, get to know the case from close up, follow the trial, appeal to independence, transparency and impartiality.”

TV director Marcelo Martinessi is a Curuguaty observer. (WNV/Somos Observadores)

TV director Marcelo Martinessi is a Curuguaty observer. (WNV/Somos Observadores)

Paraguayan filmmaker Marcelo Martinessi, the director of Televisión América Latina, is one of the well-known figures who has declared that he will be an observer. Like many of the observers of Curuguaty, Martinessi has published his photo with the campaign’s poster on social networks.

“The Curuguaty case needs us to take a stand,” he said. “And Observers is a form of doing that. The alternative is to remain indifferent, silent. It’s inertia, the ‘don’t get involved’ mentality, that endorsed disastrous, unjust and criminal practices in the darkest moments of our history.”

We Are Observers collects signatures and pledges of observer participation in the trial through its website and on social networks. Its principal activities, however, are in the streets, squares and events in Asunción and other Paraguayan cities, as well as the international cities where the group is building support, like in Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. During the participation of the Paraguayan football team in the Copa América in Chile, people gave out leaflets about the Marinakue case and We Are Observers, while they carried a banner supporting the campaign in the city of La Serena, which was where the Paraguayan national team trained between matches.

Launched publicly at the beginning of June, more than 2,000 people have already signed on as observers by subscribing on the campaign website and adding a photo of themselves with a sign saying “We Are Observers.”

Neighbors in a building in central Asunción used their windows to make a banner about Curuguaty during the visit of Pope Francis. (WNV/Fotociclo)

Neighbors in a building in central Asunción used their windows to make a banner about Curuguaty during the visit of Pope Francis. (WNV/Fotociclo)

“You can see that they are active and I see that more and more observers join,” said Jeruti Bareiro, a student who learned about the campaign through social media. “If its purpose is to create pressure and make itself present, I believe it actually has already been achieved. But I don’t believe that achieving justice in Paraguay depends only on the campaign.”

During the trial the observers will follow the procedures through social media updates. Some will also attend the trial to make sure as much information is shared about it as possible, so that people are ready to take action if it is not fair.

“Suspension [of the trial] doesn’t help us because we want justice for the 11 peasants killed, not only for the six policemen,” said Diana Rivarola, a key organizer of the campaign. “I hope that this process is overturned.”

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