Latin America & Caribbean

Paraguay court sentences farmers for deaths of policemen

Protest in Ascunsion 11 July 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Supporters of the farmers protested outside the court

A judge in Paraguay has sentenced 11 subsistence farmers to up to 30 years in jail for the deaths of police officers during a land reform protest four years ago.

Six policemen died in a gunfight during an operation to evict the farmers from land they had been occupying.

Eleven protesters were also killed.

The deaths deepened political tensions in Paraguay and were used by congress to oust the left-wing President Fernando Lugo.

Four men received sentences of between 18 and 30 years in jail, while a further seven men and women were given sentences of between four and six years.

The court heard how the clashes occurred near the city of Curuguaty in Canindeyu province in the east of Paraguay when a group of around 250 riot police were sent to clear a group of around 70 subsistence farmers off a property belonging to an agricultural company called Campos Morumbi.

The farmers had occupied the land as part of a demonstration in favour of agrarian reform.

The Paraguayan prosecution service did not investigate the deaths of the farmers who died during the eviction.

Local and international human rights organizations alleged there had been judicial irregularities during the trial.

Five of the accused had gone on hunger strike for more than 30 days.

​Land ownership has long formed the basis for bloody disputes in Paraguay.

According to the 2008 census, 2.6% of landowners hold 85.5% of Paraguay's land while 91.4% of small farmers, with properties smaller than 20 hectare, hold only 6% of the agricultural land.

Campaigners for agrarian reform have focussed on large agricultural conglomerates involved in the export of soy as being the main cause of the unequal land distribution in Paraguay.

The events at Curuguaty became the basis for the opposition Colorado Party to push for the impeachment of President Lugo whom they blamed for the killings.

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