Sanctuary, Violence, and Human Rights: The tragic case of Cecilia Cubas & the Paraguayan Six

With the kidnapping and death of Cecilia Cubas, a tragedy has unfolded in Paraguay that illustrates unchecked violence and threatens to take the lives of six more people in the coming days. The story is a Gordian knot of secrecy, political expediency, expendable lives, and cruelty.

Though a ransom of $800,000 was paid, Cecilia Cubas' strangled body was found in February 2005 in an abandoned house in a small town near Asunción. Her father, Raúl Cubas Grau, had been president of the republic during a time that saw the assassination of his vice-president, Luís Maria Argaña, in 1999 at the hands of as-yet-unknown assailents--a deed that has been tied to Lino Oviedo, in an attempt to take over the Colorado Party. After the assassination, Raúl Cubas was deposed amidst charges of corruption and the hit on Argaña, and he fled to Brazil. He was eventually acquitted of all charges, though the entire episode demonstrated fissures and power struggles within the Colorado Party--an institution in power for more than 6 decades and whose members have been invovled in massive amounts of corruption and fraud in Paraguay. (Photo of Ms. Cubas' interment from EFE.)

The 2004 kidnapping was immediately linked, by the government, to "leftist" guerrilla and when Ms. Cubas body was discovered, six peasant leaders were accused of the crime. They are Augustin Acosta, Simeón Bordón, Basiliano Cardozo, Gustavo Lezcano, Roque Rodriguez, and Aristides Vera. The case against the Six was so thin that it was thrown out of court, twice. It depended upon the questionable testimony of one witness which proved so sketchy that even the Paraguayan judicial system could not let it stand.

Nevertheless, then-President Nicanor Duarte exerted great pressure for their arrest. The Six, though cleared by court, feared the upcoming arrest and applied to Argentina for political asylum. Rather than receiving their "pending asylum" in Argentina, there they were arrested. For two-and-a-half years they have languished in jail in Argentina, while Paraguay requests extradition in order to prosecute the Six. On August 15, the Six began a hunger strike to try to jumpstart the stalled process. Today, on day 66, they find themselves incredibly weak and ill.

How can it be that six people have been cleared of a crime are still pursued? The Six are peasant leaders, part of a growing movement within Paraguay to have the state enforce land rights laws rather than accede to the wishes of bribe-giving (Paraguayan, Argentine, and Brazilian) elites. As they have become more vocal, the entrenched Colorado party has seen peasants as more and more a threat and, since the early 2000s, the government has increased its persecution of peasant leaders, under the age-old accusation of "leftist" "guerrilla." The Red Scare works less and less as a credible threat (a topic too great for this entry...perhaps I'll venture a theory about this in a later entry), but the Six face a very credible threat if they are returned to Paraguay.

How can it be that six people sit in jail for more than two years, with no charges against them? That is the question for the Argentine judicial system. Many human rights advocates in Latin America have decried this treatment of asylum seekers.

And here in Paraguay, a group of protestors meets on the steps of the Palacio de Justicia, wrapped in chains to plead "no to extradition" so that the Six might find refuge. Will there be justice for Cecilia Cubas--whose tragic death is being used for political ends-- and for Augustin Acosta, Simeón Bordón, Basiliano Cardozo, Gustavo Lezcano, Roque Rodriguez, or Aristides Vera?

(photo credit: me)

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