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At 10pm on Saturday, Lawyer Vicente Morales, one of the attorneys of the five Curuguaty prisoners who have been on hunger strike for the past 58 days received a message from Judge Ramon Trinidad Zelaya who was notifying him of the decision to grant house arrest to the prisoners.
The Court of Saltos del Guairá, capital of Canindeyu department, changed the prison sentence on the five peasants and granted them house arrest, one of the main claims of the hunger strike the prisoners had started almost two months ago.
Arnaldo Quintana, Adalberto Castro, Felipe Benítez Balmori, Néstor Castro and Rubén Villalba had been transferred from the Tacumbu Prison to the Military Hospital due to their delicate health condition. They lifted the measure after the Judge´s decision was announced to them.
They “had a smile on their faces”, said the doctors who were treating the peasants, according to what Perla Alvarez said in an interview with Real World Radio on Monday.
She is member of the National Coordination of Working, Rural and Indigenous Women Organizations (CONAMURI) and of the Curuguaty Coordination. “The decision was unexpected and an important step”, said Alvarez, who highlighted that the coordination and the Commission of Relatives of Victims of the Marina Cue Massacre welcomed the news.
Three days before Saturday´s decision, the Saltos del Guairá Court had rejected the house arrest request after considering that there were no “new elements” to make that decision. Then, the Court sent a medical team who confirmed the critical health of the peasants on strike.
The people gathered outside the Hospital supporting the peasants received the news with joy. A group of women related to the peasants imprisoned who chained themselves there on April 9 also lifted the protest measure. They were Raquel Villalba (Ruben Villalba´s wife), Mirta Benetiz (daughter of Felipe Benítez Balmori), Elida Benitez (mother of Nestor and Adalberto Castro) and Carmen Paredes (mother of Arnaldo Quintana).
The peasants were demanding house arrest until the Court rules on the ownership of the Marina Cue lands. The peasants and the Paraguayan government claim that this is a state land which was illegally occupied by cattle/agricultural businessman Blas Riquelme (who died in September 2012, after the massacre) and his family.
In the interview with Real World Radio, Perla highlighted the “extraordinary international support” for the struggle of the peasants and the organizations joining them, and said that this victory serves to “prove that there is strength in numbers and that the peoples´ power can bring changes to a perverse system, such as the Paraguayan one”.
However, the member of CONAMURI and the Curuguaty Coordination said that the struggle will continue and that it is key that the trial against the peasants does not take place until the court decides over the ownership of the lands.
She added that the final goal is to “conquer the Marina Cue lands”. “The land is what provides us with life and wher 18 friends lost their lives”, she said. “We know these lands belong to the State” and that “they should be delivered to the landless families of Curuguaty and surrounding areas”.
On June 15, 2012, a large police operation entered the Marina Cue lands to evict 50 landless peasants who were claiming the lands (among them women and children).
During the eviction, 11 landless peasants and six police officers were killed. Several police officers were shot by high-caliber guns, which are not usually used by peasants. One of the strongest versions is that there were infiltrated snipers who killed the police officers and triggered the massacre that took 17 lives.
Then, in December that year, two masked people murdered peasant leader Vidal Vega in front of his family in Yvy Pyta community, five kilometers from Marina Cue. Vidal Vega was member of the Landless Commission of the peasants who are fighting for the Marina Cue lands.
José Luis Abarca, hijo de un luchador ambiental asesinado en noviembre de 2009 por encabezar la resistencia a un proyecto minero en el municipio mexicano de Chicomuselo, estado de Chiapas, interpuso el 5 de febrero una denuncia administrativa ante el Comisionado para la Integridad de la Administración Pública de Canadá.
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