Paraguay: An unprecedented legal victory for human rights

Carlos Amorín
Gerardo Iglesias
July 26, 2004
Rural Paraguayans are taking a well-earned respite following a six-year legal battle with the U.S. corporation Delta & Pine. They are celebrating an unprecedented victory in Paraguayan court. The court ruled in favor of the farmers from Rincon’I, poisoned six years ago by thousands of kilos of agricultural toxins abandoned by Delta & Pine. The case was launched in November 1998.

On July 14, Criminal Court Justice, German Torres, declared: “Punishable crime against the environment and the illegal processing of toxic waste has been proven. The participation of the accused, Nery Guzman Rivas, as author of these crimes, along with Julio Cesar Chavez as accessory in the perpetration of these crimes, has also been determined.”          
Nery Rivas, a high level agricultural engineer working for Delta and Pine, was condemned to two years in prison as the person directly responsible for abandoning the toxic waste. Chavez, the owner of the land where the toxic waste was abandoned, received a 15 month sentence. Both sentences were suspended. Rivas and Chavez were placed on probation for three years, in accordance with conditions in Paraguayan law applicable to special situations. The sentences also include a total of  $30,000 in fines, a need for legal authorization to travel or change residence and that both Rivas and Chavez present themselves before a judge every four months. This regimen must be strictly adhered to during the three-year probationary period or Rivas and Chavez will be imprisoned for the full term designated in their sentence.
Judge Torres issued another resolution of equal importance in ruling that the case remain open with respect to U.S. citizen Eric Lorenz, a Delta & Pine representative in Paraguay who fled the country. Lorenz has been officially declared a “fugitive” of Paraguayan justice.
On the other hand, the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence linking last month’s death of Agustin Ruiz to the seeds poisoned by toxic waste in Rincon’i. This ruling undermined the position of the defense, which had sought a homicide conviction for both of the accused.

Judge Torres also decided it was necessary to form a bipartisan commission with representatives from the Ministry of Public Health and the victims of contamination to administer the money collected in fines from the accused. This money should be spent as determined by the commission, according to the judge’s ruling.

The accused decided against filing an appeal, an option that has now expired. Thus, the sentence is definitive.
Given this situation, it is safe to say that the legal victory of the Rincon’I community has been total, resounding and without ambiguities. According to some authorities, this is the first time in Latin America that a prison sentence has been issued for an environmental crime, making the victory of this rural community all the more exemplary.             
 Ana Maria Segovia, spokesperson for the community affected by the contamination, has been Rincon’I’s alma mater, a symbol of resistance, rebellion and courage –three characteristics strongly identified with Paraguayans. Little has been said of Ana Maria’s valor, but the past six years were marked by constant struggle, not eternal patience. The litigants were subjected to veiled and not so veiled threats. Their opponents worked assiduously to divide the community and, at one point, were successful. The Rincon’I community carried forth their struggle despite great economic hardships and a distinct financial disadvantage re: Delta & Pine. They often felt frustrated and impotent, especially when confronted by unscrupulous lawyers who abandoned them for the juicier terms offered by Delta & Pine, nearly ruining the community’s chance to win the case. The farmers from Rincon’i were able to find other lawyers just in the nick of time and despite doubts among themselves that it was possible, sentiments that marred the group’s cohesion. There were many, many people who dedicated their time and energy to this case, contributing much needed funding, extending a solidarious hand when things got bad, a fraternal hug, or a kind word. There were many people, but none as dedicated as Ana Maria Segovia. Ana Maria dedicated herself completely and unconditionally to this struggle –as a member of the community, a mother, a woman and a human being living on this earth.            
“This is a happy day! After so much time, struggle and suffering we have finally reached the goal we established as a community –we were able to prove that we were victims of an illegal act and those responsible have been punished. We would have preferred a more severe punishment, one that reflects the suffering we have endured and, most certainly, will continue to endure, since the health effects of this type of contamination will be felt by future generations. Nevertheless, we are happy because justice has been served, at least in the case of the Paraguayans. Now we need to think about getting Mr. Lorenz to stand up to his responsibilities, putting together another case. On behalf of my community, I want to thank all the people and institutions that supported our struggle, especially Pai Oliva which always gave us the strength to continue struggling. I also want to thank the Paraguayan press for its constant space and attention, as well as all those people who wish to remain anonymous, and the regional secretary of the UITA, without whom we wouldn’t have gotten where we are today ”, Ana Maria commented.


      UITA - Secretaría Regional Latinoamericana -
      Montevideo - Uruguay
      Wilson Ferreira Aldunate 1229 / 201 -
      Tel. (598 2) 900 7473 -  902 1048 - 
      Fax 903 0905




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