Paraguay hit by strikes, protests


Photo: Fenaes.

A wave of popular protests and strikes rocked Paraguay on November 3 as popular discontent with the national government approached breaking point.

High school students, teachers, public transport workers and health sector workers held strikes and marches protesting government policies.

The National Secondary School Students Federation (Fenaes) and teachers from various unions rallied outside the National Congress in the capital Asuncion to demand greater investment in education. Students and educators also called for a new universal school lunch program and infrastructure improvements.

Teachers said their calls echoed long-standing demands of unions and the strong turnout spoke to the “historical debts” owed to the education sector.

The marches come after Fenaes launched a sit-in on November 1 to watch over discussions of the 2016 national budget in Congress and put pressure on lawmakers to allocate more funding to education.

The actions follow national student mobilisations in September, when Fenaes protested against corruption in the education system and launched a campaign to demand that 3-7% of GDP be invested in education.

Meanwhile, transit workers continued their second day of a two-day strike on November 3 in solidarity with 51 bus drivers who were sacked in June. Workers say the lay-offs came without notice after their colleagues tried to form a union to address miserable working conditions and long hours.

More than a dozen bus drivers nailed themselves to wooden crosses in a symbolic protest of the lack of labour protections and unfair dismissals. The ongoing transit protests demand the “crucified” drivers be rehired. The strike is also a protest against the anti-union policies of President Horacio Cartes' government.

The diverse mobilisations follow a huge campesino march the week before demanding Cartes' resignation and an end to policies they say contribute to poor living conditions in rural areas.

Meanwhile, progressive Paraguayan intellectuals have come out in support of the popular uprising.

“We support and extend our solidarity to the student movement and rebellions in Paraguay, to peasant struggles for democratisation of land tenure, to union struggles, to mobilisations against neoliberal, anti-democratic policy and against the policy of criminalisation of peoples' struggles by the ruling regime in the country,” said a statement issued by participants in the First Meeting of Progressive Intellectuals of Paraguay.

President Cartes has seen high disapproval ratings since coming to office in 2013 and has come under fire within his own party for undermining institutional stability.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]

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