Wednesday, December 06, 2006



“We will kill the judges before they can use the bribe money” threatened angry relatives of the 400 people that were killed on August 1, 2004 in Asuncion, capital of Paraguay. On that fateful date, a fire began in a restaurant at the “Ycua Bolanos” supermarket. As the clients tried to escape in panic, the supermarket’s security guards locked the doors from the outside. According to Juan Paiva, the owner of the store, he had ordered the guards to close the doors in case of any incident to prevent looting. This fire was Paraguay’s most deadly civil tragedy in history, and due to the importance of the trial it was held on December 5 in a sports arena that could seat the thousands of relatives of the dead citizens.
The sentence was to be given by three judges : Manuel Aguirre , Elio Ovelar and Maria Baez. Judge Maria Baez stated that it had been an act of “qualified homicide and serious bodily harm”. Judge Baez added that according to declarations by many witnesses and analysis by experts she concluded that the supermarket guards had closed the doors and emergency exits on purpose, and that Juan Paiva was guilty since as the owner he had previously instructed his son Victor Paiva , (the store manager on that day) to order the guards to act as they did. This made the crowd stand up and cheer in approval. With this sentence, the accused faced sentences of up to 25 years in jail. However the atmosphere in the sports center became tense as Judge Elio Ovelar stated that Juan Paiva and his son had acted with “accidental culpability” and should be charged with five years in jail and with the right to go free on bail. At this point an argument began between Judge Ovelar and Judge Baez, that disputed his decision.
“I have cast my vote, didn’t you hear me Judge Baez? Now, Judge Aguirre will explain the legal reasons for our decision,” shouted Ovelar.
Judge Manuel Aguirre only made matters worse as he stated that “it was not proven that the doors had been shut with the intention of killing. Did anyone think so many people could die?”. This last comment finally set off a massive attack by the relatives against the judges, that due to the action of the police in the hall were able to escape through a back door. Also able to escape were the accused Juan Paiva, his son and other employees, but the riot did not end there, as news spread throughout the city, and protesters took to the streets and clashed with the anti-riot police. The “Ycua Bolanos” supermarket was looted and set on fire, along with several cars that were parked nearby while the violence continued throughout the night until Dec 6.
“There is no justice for the poor in Paraguay, I am ashamed to be a citizen of this country, “ said Felipe Palacios, that lost his three young daughters during the fire in 2004. According to press reports by ABC Digital, a Paraguayan newspaper, in September 2006, Edgar Sanchez, one of the prosecution lawyers, had already warned the court that Judges Ovelar and Aguirre had requested US$ 300,000 from Juan Paiva in order to give the accused lower sentences .