Hail of bullets ends land-reform hopes in Paraguay

ASUNCION, ParaguayLucia Aguero stood with the other farmers in the standoff. About 300 of them had occupied the rich politician’s land that they insisted wasn’t legally his.

On the other side of the clearing were about 200 riot police. Ms. Aguero watched as the two negotiators walked up to each other and began talking.

Then the shooting started.

Both negotiators were hit. The young woman threw herself to the ground, shielding a friend’s 4-year-old boy beneath her as she felt a bullet’s sting in her thigh.

In the end, 17 were dead, including the men who had been trying to resolve the 6-week-old occupation.

Politicians opposed to President Fernando Lugo seized on the “massacre of Curuguaty” on June 15 to vote the sandal-wearing leftist out of office for “mismanaging” the property dispute.

Paraguayans’ hopes that Mr. Lugo would make good on his promises of land reform died.

Six months after the shootout, there has been no official accounting of how a peaceful negotiation ended with a barrage of bullets that killed 11 farmers and six police officers.

Farmers and their supporters say the official investigation is a one-sided effort to make an example of the farmers so nobody ever again will dare challenge the interests of powerful landowners.

Grieving relatives suspect the dead farmworkers were wounded and then summarily executed by police after the firefight.

In separate interviews, they described bullet wounds in three of the corpses that they said showed people were shot at close range in defensive positions.

‘Government of coup-plotters’

Catalino Aguero, Lucia’s father, lost his 24-year-old son, De los Santos, in the firefight.

“They gave me my son’s decomposing body in a black plastic bag. He had bullet wounds in both feet, but a huge hole in his neck,” Mr. Aguero said. “Witnesses of the tragedy told me my son begged for help, lying face down, because his wounds were painful, but a police officer came close and shot him.”

His daughter Lucia, a 25-year-old mother of two, was arrested along with 11 other people, mostly farmers.

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