Indigenous protest in Paraguay’s capital erupts in violence

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Indigenous groups demonstrated in Paraguay’s capital Wednesday against a law that makes it a crime to invade private property, and the protest escalated into violence that authorities said saw seven police officers injured, four cars set on fire and other acts of vandalism.

The police command said one officer was hit by an arrow shot by archers from an ethnic group not yet identified. Television coverage showed the commander of a police station about 300 meters (yards) from the Congress building lying on the ground and being hit by demonstrators with stones and sticks. Prosecutors said those protesters could not be identified as Indigenous.

The unrest began when the 80-member Chamber of Deputies approved an amendment to the land invasion law that would increase the penalty to six years in prison from four for those who illegally occupy private property.

Indigenous groups often invade properties to press their demands that land be given to poor farmers.

Teodolina Villalba, president of the National Peasant Federation, said in Guarani in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that “the modification of the law will not be a solution because thousands of poor compatriots need a piece of land to cultivate.”

The group is the largest in Paraguay representing poor farmers, some of whom own land but others who do not. It seeks justice for Indigenous people whose lands were taken away and given to others during the autocratic regime of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner in 1954-1989.

The country’s Truth and Justice Commission, created by law to investigate human rights violations during the Stroessner regime, presented a 6,000-page report in 2006 saying that nearly two-thirds of land allocated during the regime’s agrarian reform campaign went to people close to the government. It said none of those people was poor.

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