Thursday, March 27, 2014

Paraguay: Thousands Protest in General Strike

Several thousand Paraguayans took to the streets on Wednesday as part of a general strike against the government’s economic and social policies. 

The nationwide protests were organized by labor unions and were held on the twentieth anniversary of the country’s previous general strike in 1994.  Social groups, peasants and teachers were among the scores of participants in the general strike and called for a variety of demands including better education, reducing the fare on public transportation and agrarian reform.  Labor unions, for example, have sought a 25% across-the-board salary increase and are upset over a law permitting private companies to invest in government infrastructure in exchange for owning concessions and charging fees. 

“(The government) claims that there has been development, that funds are distributed across the nation.  But that money doesn’t flow to the workers or the peasants, nor does it arrive to the hospitals or the schools,” declared labor leader Teodolina Villalba.

The largest demonstration took part in the capital of Asunción where traffic reportedly came to a standstill and most businesses and schools were closed. Marches were also organized in the country’s interior cities and for the most part were peaceful aside from minor tensions resulting from the temporary shutdown of the Friendship Bridge connecting Ciudad del Este to Foz do Iguacu, Brazil.

Prior to the strike, president Horacio Cartes gave in by permitting the establishment of dialogues in order to hear the demands from the protesters.  Otherwise it appears unlikely that he will provide any more concessions such as the public-private investment plan that Public Works Minister Ramon Jimenez defended as necessary to improve government infrastructure.

The multimillionaire tycoon Cartes was elected to the presidency last April and became Paraguay’s first elected leader since the controversial ouster of Fernando Lugo in June 2012.  In the seven months under the Cartes presidency, Paraguay has experienced “an economic recovery fueled by higher commodity prices” and the mending of diplomatic ties that had been severed following the removal of Lugo from office.  Yet the country still faces high economic inequality where one in three residents lives under the poverty line and 20% of the populace lives in “extreme poverty.” 

A report originally from the Colombian press this week alleged that criminal groups like the FARC rebels have laundered millions of dollars by selling smuggled cigarettes belonging to a tobacco firm founded and owned by Cartes. 

Meanwhile, Argentina’s main labor unions called for a nationwide general strike to take place on April 10th.  According to the protest organizers, the aim is to seek a change in the economic policies championed by President Cristina Fernández though a government spokesman accused the unions of using the strike as a de facto campaign rally for a potential opposition presidential candidate.

Video Source– teleSUR via YouTube

Online Sources – El Nuevo Herald; The Latin Americanist; The World Bank;; Prensa Latina; UPI; InSight Crime; El Mundo; MercoPress; Diario ABC Color

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