Paraguayan President Faces First Major Test as Citizens Prepare for a General Strike


“26-03 General Strike” reads a flyer on social media. Peasants, students and workers reject Cartes policies. Photo credit: Festival por la Huelga General event page on Facebook

March 26, 2014 will be a historic day for Paraguay. The country will live its first general strike after two decades since the last one took place. United in a common front, workers, peasants, teacher unions and students will give Horacio Cartes his first major test as president only eight months after he has taken office.

The recently approved public-private partnership law, ongoing violence against peasants, and the rise of public bus fares are some of the reasons why organized citizens have decided to take their demands out on the streets. Although he has sought to put a stop to the impending strike by raising minimum wages by 10%, Cartes has failed to curtail growing discontent among the populace. Some regard him as a staunch neoliberal who will only harm those who are already most disadvantaged with his policies.

Demands are varied, but they all come down to issues of justice and social welfare. Labor workers request price control over basic food items, a 25% rise in minimum salaries, and respect for trade union rights. Peasants, on their part, demand the long-awaited agrarian reform and an end to the repression that they suffer daily for protesting against the monoculture model of production. Throughout the democratic period, 130 people have been murdered as a result of the dispute for land in rural areas. Peasants also ask for the immediate release of five of them who are on hunger strike. Without much convincing evidence to prove their guilt, the peasants on hunger strike are accused of taking part in the killing of eleven farmers and six policemen during a land eviction procedure in 2012 in Curuguaty.

Teachers, high-school and university students have also joined the strike. The first are mobilizing for free, quality education. The latter demand better oversight and distribution of resources allotted for educational purposes, a reduction in bus fare prices and the removal of university fees.

Paraguayans have started using the hashtag #26M to tweet about the strike.

Meanwhile, artists have voiced their solidarity with the general strikers by putting together a music festival and sending out messages of support:


“We sing because we believe in people” reads a line from messages of support that artists have put together for the general strike. Photo credit: Festival por la Huelga General event on Facebook

President Cartes and his close circle of allies have expressed their disapproval, saying that the strike damages Paraguay's international portrayal precisely when it is in much need of direct foreign investment. Furthermore, they claim that the general strike has been “politicized”, alluding to the role that opposition parties such as Frente Guasu are playing in it.

Their views however have been largely dismissed by the public. Allegations from the minister of Interior that there are plans to destabilize the government proved to be unsubstantiated until now. His most compelling evidence – a recorded chat between unknown men who discuss how to create chaos during the strike, and even re-enact another bloody “Marzo Paraguayo” – has been ditched after those involved in the conversation came forward to explain that the recording had been rehearsed and subsequently edited.

In his weekly post for Ultima Hora [es] newspaper, journalist Luis Bareiro summarizes his opinion regarding the governments reaction to the strike:

No sé si es su esencia de patrón, pero hasta ahora lo único que mostró Cartes con relación a la huelga es irritación y una notable torpeza”

I do not know if these are the natural leanings of a boss, but until now the only thing that Cartes has shown is annoyance and remarkable ineptness in relation to the strike

Civil society organizations assert that if there is anyone who is embarrassing Paraguay's stance in the world arena it is Mr. Cartes himself. During the weekend, Brazil's daily Gazeta do Povo [pt] and El Tiempo [es] from Colombia have published a series of investigative reports which blame the President's businesses for the large scale smuggling of cigarettes across Latin America. According to the reports, this serves criminal organizations and even the FARC guerrilla for money laundering purposes.

It remains to be seen whether strikers will achieve their goals. What is clear for now is that stuck between a rock and a hard place at home and abroad, Cartes will have to rethink his maneuverings if he strives for a governable environment for the rest of his presidency.


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