Argentine organizations demand safe return of Lichita in Paraguay

14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, also known as Lichita, was illegally detained by the Joint Task Force (FTC) of the Paraguayan army on November 30, 2020, in the forest region of the Yby Yaú city. Lichita has disappeared since then

May 10, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
From the press conference of the Argentine Human Rights Mission on March 30. Photo: Enrique García Medina/Página 12

Argentine human rights and social organizations are demanding the safe return of 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, also known as Lichita, illegally detained and disappeared by the Joint Task Force (FTC) of the Paraguayan army on November 30, 2020. The organizations are also demanding justice for her 11-year-old cousins and Argentine nationals, Lilian Mariana Villalba and María del Carmen Villalba, killed by the FTC on September 2, 2020, in an operation against the guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP).

Lichita, her twin sister Tamara Anahí, her cousins Lilian Mariana, María del Carmen and Tania Tamara, traveled to Paraguay from Argentina with Laura Villalba, Lichita’s aunt and her cousins’ mother, to visit their relatives and Lichita’s parents in prison. Lichita is the daughter of political prisoners Carmen Villalba and Alcides Oviedo, who have been imprisoned for over 17 years in Paraguay’s capital Asunción for belonging to the EPP. Lichita and Tamara Anahí were born in prison. A few years after their birth, they were moved to Argentina to live with their aunt Laura in the city of Puerto Rico, in the Misiones province.

On September 2, 2020, the FTC carried out a clandestine operation in the forest region of the Yby Yaú city, where the EPP members have been living and hiding for decades. In the ambush, the Paraguayan military forces cruelly killed Lilian Mariana and María del Carmen, claiming that they were engaged in combat with the EPP.

However, according to the testimony of relatives and survivors of the ambush, the girls were kidnapped, tortured, raped and then executed. The relatives reported that the army changed their clothes and dressed them in guerrilla uniforms, a concept of false positives* witnessed in Colombia. The relatives also informed that their original clothes were burned to destroy the evidence and their bodies were immediately buried on the excuse of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez celebrated the murder of the two minors on his Twitter account as an example of a successful battle against the insurgent group EPP, in an attempt of hide the social discontent of Paraguayan workering class against his government’s mishandling of the pandemic and the deepening of economic crisis.

On September 4, the Argentine government of President Alberto Fernández issued a strong denunciation. The Argentina government demanded that “the Paraguayan government clarify and identify those responsible for the deaths of two eleven-year-old Argentinian citizens” and expressed that it “strongly reject any official expression that seeks to cover up responsibility.”

Almost three months later this brutal crime, on November 30, 2020, in another operation, in the same territory, Lichita, her sister Tamara Anahí, her aunt Laura, and her cousin Tania Tamara, who had been hiding in the forest after the ambush, were attacked. They tried to cross the border with the help of local peasants, but due to the attack, the group separated. According to the statements from locals, Lichita was hit in the leg by a bullet and she was captured, while the farmer who accompanied her was killed. The other three women managed to cross the border and arrived in Argentina on December 23, but Lichita has disappeared since then.

Since September 2020, human rights organizations in Argentina and Paraguay have been demanding explanation for the murder of the two minors from the far-right government of Abdo Benítez. Since December 2020, the call for Lichita’s safe return has joined their other claims.

On May 3, members of various social and political organizations demonstrated in front of the Paraguayan Consulate in the La Plata city, Argentina, to denounce the crimes of infanticide of Lilian Mariana and María del Carmen and the forced disappearence of Lichita. The protesters also delivered a letter addressed to Paraguayan Consul, Juan Ramón Cano Montanía, in which the organizations requested him to address their demands.

From March 17 and 23, an Argentine Human Rights Mission, made up of representatives of social and feminist organizations, doctors, lawyers and journalists, traveled to the neighboring country Paraguay, to seek answers to the state crimes and to activate the search for Lichita. The mission focused its work in Asunción, and held meetings with different government officials such as Senator Pedro Santa Cruz, member of the parliament’s Human Rights Commission; Hugo Samaniego, the director of Human Rights Commission of the Ministry of the Interior; and various members of the Human Rights Depart of the Attorney General’s Office, in order to gain clarification of the facts around the cases. The members also met the relatives of the girls as well as with the Indigenous and peasant communities of the area. On March 30, in a press conference, the mission stated that “Lichita was taken by the State and the State has to return her.”

Meanwhile, the Paraguayan government harassed the members of the mission and accused them of “interference.” Even the lawyers, who are giving legal support to the Villalba family, were accused of being part of the EPP.

The representative of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH) of La Matanza, Pablo Pimentel, who visited Paraguay as a member of the human rights mission, told Página 12, that “the Indigenous communities in the territory live in great fear” and “according to the Paraguayan government, everyone who arrives in the territory is the EPP’s logistical support.”

Argentinian lawyer Gabriela Conder, who accompanied Pimentel along with other members, said that the Paraguayan authorities had destroyed fundamental evidence and are not allowing the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) to proceed with the exhumation process to verify the cause of the deaths of the two minors. Conder informed that the lawyer of the Villalba family, Daisy Irala Toledo, was also denied access to the files and analysis of the bodies. Conder also reported that the mission had sent two letters to President Fernández requesting him to intervene in the matter.

Argentine human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, called on the international organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as well as the United Nations (UN) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to immediately send their investigation missions to Paraguay as the serious crimes of human rights violations include minors.

Besides, the social and human rights organizations in both the countries have committed to continue fighting until justice is done.

*In Colombia, false positives refer to the kidnapping and murder of civilians by the National Army, presented to authorities as guerrilla fighters killed in combat. Between 2006 and 2009, during the Democratic Security program of the far-right government of former President Álvaro Uribe, the military officials were rewarded with promotions or other benefits for the capture of dead or alive guerrilla fighters.