The prosecution insists the clash began with the farmworkers opening fire on the police. But the fugitive's account, if true, raises another possibility — that both negotiators, surrounded by hundreds of officers, were killed by police gunfire after Espinola pushed Lovera. Without ballistics tests showing who fired the bullets that killed both men, it's a possibility that Rachid's investigation hasn't ruled out.
Morales said he had not previously heard anything about Ayala raising a machete or Lovera using pepper spray, because his clients were 100 or more meters (yards) away from the negotiators when the gunfire erupted and unable to see what happened.
The fugitive said he escaped by crawling through the grass. "I haven't turned myself in to the prosecutor because I'm afraid the police will kill me," he said.
Two identified gunmen in December killed Vidal Vega, a surviving leader of the peasant movement who was to testify in the case.
After the shootout last June, police quickly abandoned the crime scene and hundreds of people arrived, looking for bodies. Some collected hundreds of spent bullet casings, but Rachid refused to accept them because there was no way to prove where they came from.
Rachid didn't include any ballistics tests in his report that might support the farmworkers' version of events.
Instead, he focused on the officers: His report says five of the officers died of pellets from 12 and 28-gauge shotguns, and the sixth — not Lovera — was shot by a .38 caliber revolver. No such evidence was gathered from the farmworkers' bodies. Rachid's report says they were shot by officers "defending themselves using their standard police weapons," without describing what weapons or bullets were involved.
Most police in Paraguay don't carry standard-issue weapons, however: their departments are so underfunded that officers buy their own handguns and bullets.
The farmworkers' death certificates attribute the cause to unspecified "gun injuries."
Martina Paredes said she found the body of her brother Luis the next day, "with a gunshot to the head, from above to below."
"For us it was a summary execution, but the prosecutor didn't open any investigation," she said.
Rachid said last year that he didn't know who shot whom. More than 330 officers from various departments participated in the clash. Of those, 84 officers gave sworn testimony to Rachid but none identified any gunman, or were able to say what weapons the defendants allegedly carried.
While the future of the criminal case remains unclear, about 150 people have been gathered near the ranch since Sunday, threatening to invade again if the government doesn't agree by Friday to carve out parcels for them.
"We are outside the farm and ready to once again occupy the state's land," said Leonor Vega, president of Landless Commission of Curuguaty.
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