Paraguay: indigenous Aché people charge genocide

The Aché indigenous people of Paraguay on April 8 brought suit in a court in Argentina demanding reparations for "genocide" carried out under the late Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. The Aché are being represented by Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón, and chose to bring the case in Argentina under the doctrine of "universal jurisdiction" for crimes against humanity, asserting that justice is not possible in Paraguay's own courts. "We still feel enormous pain in our hearts and minds," said Aché leader Ceferino Kreigi Duarte in a press conference announcing the suit. "For this reason we today demand the Paraguayan state must answer for all this damage, not only to our community but to all the peoples of Paraguay who were victims of the dictatorship." Under Stroessner's 1954-1989 rule, the Aché people, who live in the riverine forests of Paraguay's east, saw their population diminish by 60% due to forced relocations, seizures of traditional lands, and abduction of the young to serve as virtual slaves in domestic labor. Most of the population plunge took place in the first five years of the 1970s. (AP via Excélsior, Mexico; EFE via Radio Caracol, Colombia, April 8)

Paraguay: first general strike in 20 years

Starting on the evening of March 25, thousands of Paraguayan unionists, campesinos and students participated in a 24-hour general strike to protest the economic policies of President Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara. Union sources said the action shut down transportation, schools and most businesses in Asunción. This was the country's first general strike in 20 years, and the first major demonstration against the government since President Cartes' inauguration last August. Cartes, a member of the rightwing Colorado Party, was elected in April 2013; the previous elected president, the left-leaning former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo, was removed from office by Congress in a de facto coup on June 22, 2012, one year before the end of his term.

Paraguay pressed on indigenous land restitution

Directors of the Americas sections of Amnesty International on Oct. 30 sent an open letter to Paraguay's senators demanding immediate restitution of usurped lands to the Enxet indigenous community of Sawhoyamaxa in the Gran Chaco region, charging that a 2006 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) in favor of the community is going unenforced. In August, the government issued a decree calling for purchase of 14,000 hectares of usurped Sawhoyamaxa lands from a local rancher and their return to the community, but the rancher has refused to negotiate. Enxet communities began legal action for return of their lands in 1991, after which they were evicted from the usurped lands, where many had been employed as ranch hands. The Sawhoyamaxa community was forced to relocate to unused lands on the side of a highway, where they have since been living in poverty, with no access to basic services. The CIDH decision alo called for the restitution of Enxet communities Yakye Axa and Xámok Kásek—cases which likewise remain outstanding. (ABC Color, Nov. 8; Ultima Hora, Oct. 30; AI, Sept. 29, 2011)

Paraguay: military unleashed to fight guerillas

Paraguay's Congress on Aug. 22 voted up broad powers allowing the executive branch to use the armed forces for domestic policing—just one week after new President Horacio Cartes was sworn in, returning the once-entrenched right-wing Colorado Party to power after a hiatus of five years.  The vote follows a "state of alert" declared Aug. 18 after rebels of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) attacked the Brazilian-owned Kororó estate in Tacuatí, San Pedro department, killing four private guards and then engaging National Police troops who responded, injuring one. The left-nationalist EPP, which took up arms in 2005, has been increasingly active in the north of the country in recent months, attacking police posts and demanding redistribution of the landed estates to the peasantry. (BBC News, Ultima Hora, Paraguay, Aug. 22; La Nación, Paraguay, BBC News, DPA, Aug. 18; Ultima Hora, Aug. 17; BBC News, Aug. 15)

US high court ruling threatens human rights suits

In a unanimous decision issued on April 17, the US Supreme Court sharply restricted the use of the 1789 Alien Tort Statute for foreign nationals to sue for human rights violations that took place outside the US. The case at issue, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, was brought by 12 Nigerians now living in the US; they charged that Royal Dutch Petroleum (better known as Royal Dutch Shell) and other oil companies with a presence in the US conspired with the Nigerian government to commit human rights violations against Nigerians protesting environmental damage by the companies.

Argentina: ex-dictator gets life in Operation Condor

A court in Argentina on March 12 sentenced the country's last military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during his rule in 1982 and '83. The 85-year-old former general, already serving three other terms for similar crimes, was found guilty of killings related to Operation Condor—a coordinated campaign by the Southern Cone dictatorships to eliminate dissidents from one country who sought refuge in another. Federal Oral Tribunal Federal No. 1 in San Martín found Bignone culpable in the deaths of 23 victims, including seven pregnant women, who were abducted to the now-notorious Campo de Mayo clandestine prison. Also receiving a life term was Bignone's armed forces chief and second-in-command as dictator, Santiago Omar Riveros. Three other military men received terms of between 12 and 15 years. (Argentina Independent, Rebelión, Digital Journal, March 13; BBC News, La Nación, Clarín, Gente BAPrensa Latina, March 12)

Argentina: provincial court blocks Monsanto facility

Judges in Córdoba City, capital of the central Argentine province of Córdoba, issued an order Feb. 25 suspending construction of a corn seed-drying plant by Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company. Provincial Labor Court judges Silvia Díaz and Luis Farías cited potential "environmental risks" as a basis for the suspension, which was in response to an appeal by the Argentine Law Foundation Club. The company plans to build the 27-hectare facility at a cost of $300 million in Malvinas Argentinas, a working-class suburb located 14 km from the provincial capital. Malvinas Argentinas residents are demanding a referendum on the planned construction and have held protest marches, including one on Feb. 21. (La Mañana de Córdoba, Feb. 21; Télam, Argentina, Feb. 25, via; MercoPress, Montevideo, Feb. 27)

Latin America protests attack on Gaza

In a Nov. 17 statement the leaders of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay (suspended), Uruguay and Venezuela, expressed their "strongest condemnation of the violence unleashed between Israel and Palestine" and their "concern with the disproportionate use of force" since Israel began a military offensive against Gaza on Nov. 14. Mercosur also expressed "its support to the request from the state of Palestine to obtain the status of [United Nations] observer member."

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