On March 26, 2014, Paraguayan small farmer organizations and labor federations organized a strike in the capital city of Asuncion. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of all workers took part in the strike, bringing life as they knew it to a halt in Asuncion and other surrounding cities. The strike was originally planned for December of 2013, but because there were other protests going on at that time, labor leaders postponed the strike until March.
The Reasons for the Strike
In 2008, a left-leaning coalition helped elect Fernando Lugo as president, which ousted the Colorado party that previously held power for over 61 years. Then, in 2012, the congress of Paraguay illegally fired Fernando Lugo, claiming that he and his government didn’t properly handle certain land ownership issues. Paraguay is a huge grower of soybeans, and due to the expansion of the soy industry, many inequalities having to do with wealth and land ownership have come into play.
The organizers of the strike were calling for agrarian reform, an increase in wages, respect for life, better health care, free education, reduced transportation fares and a repeal of the government’s Public-Private Alliance. In response, current President Cartes agreed to a 10 percent wage increase—rejecting the 25 percent increase the protesters were seeking. Union leaders accepted this, but they warned that another strike would likely occur down the line if a better agreement wasn’t reached.
The Murder of Benjamin Lezcano
Human rights protestors are also calling for justice for the murder of union leader Benjamin Lezcano, which occurred in February. Lezcano was shot by two gunmen outside of his home in northern Paraguay. It is believed that this shooting was a result of the land conflicts that are currently taking place. Even worse, the Human Rights Committee of Paraguay claims that as many as 129 farmers have been murdered since 1989 because of this struggle over land. Lezcano was the leader of an organization that opposes the cultivation of genetically modified foods—a big issue for the soy industry.
The United States: Will They Get Involved?
The United States has a long history of involvement with Paraguay. The government has expressed concern over the protests and anyone who endangers innocent lives or the stability of the area. In February, an Emergency Operations Center was installed in San Pedro and operated by the United States Southern Command. Some suggest that the base will actually be used as a military intelligence center rather than for the purposes of dealing with issues for the Paraguayan people.
The U.S. military has carried out training exercises with Paraguayan soldiers in the past, and in 2006, an airbase was reopened near the Bolivian border. It remains to be seen how much the United States will involve themselves if protests in the area begin to get out of control.
Alejandra Amarilla: Seeking Solutions for Struggling Countries
Documentary filmmaker and activist Alejandra Amarilla is moved by the struggles in Paraguay; born in the capital of Asuncion, she knows how hard the local people work to support their families. Alejandra Amarilla believes that through awareness, resourcefulness and creativity, struggling communities can begin to flourish. It isn’t until everyone adopts this mentality that things will begin to change.