Protests demanding resignation of far-right president Mario Abdo Benítez, vice-president Hugo Velázquez and the rest of the cabinet continue in Paraguay. For the past twelve days, since March 5, thousands of Paraguayans have been mobilizing in the capital Asunción and other major cities in rejection of the national government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the deepening of economic crisis and social inequality.
On March 15, in Asunción, a group of young protesters demonstrated in front of the presidential residence denouncing the state abandonment during the prolonged lockdown, the corruption scandals of government officials, the collapse of the public healthcare system, the lack of timely response, essential medicine, medical supplies and anti-COVID vaccines, among other issues. Likewise, another group of protesters mobilized outside the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare. A large number of people also gathered in front of the National Congress to support the protesters staying in the ‘Resistance Camp’ set up there.
Yesterday, on March 16, in Asunción, the peaceful protests continued at the street near the National Congress. In the cities of Ciudad del Este, Misiones, San Pedro and Paraguarí, the citizens blocked various key roads for hours. The members of the Agrarian and Popular Movement (MAP), a grassroots organization bringing together peasants from seven departments of the country, also arrived in the capital, yesterday, to support the mobilizations of young Paraguayans and their demands.
Since the beginning of the anti-government protests, the peasants associated with the MAP have been mobilizing in their respective departments and districts. This weekend, during a meeting on March 14, they decided to mobilize towards Asunción to provide new strength to the struggle. The leaders of the MAP also called on all its associates and all the citizens “to join this great and patriotic fight” and mobilize daily starting from March 16.
Today, on March 17, under the banner of “Paraguay is not for sale, it is to be defended”, the MAP, the Paraguayan Peasant Movement (MCP), the National Coordinator of Homeless People, the National Federation of Secondary Students (FENAES), the Coordinator of University Students of the National University of Asuncion (CEUNA), among others, have called for a road blockade on National Highway 01 in Asunción starting from 07:00 hours local time.
At the legislative level, the left-wing opposition parties are seeking the possibility of impeachment against the president and the vice-president. Today, on March 17, the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) will officially present the draft of the document requesting a political trial of president Abdo Benítez and vice-president Velázquez to other political forces in the parliament for their consideration over the leaders’ poor performance of their duties. Around 40 deputies are in favor of the impeachment. However, in order to initiate the process, the support of the legislators from the ruling Colorado Party is necessary.
A series of structural changes have also been raised as demands. On March 13, a group of around 15 intellectuals, expressed their solidarity with the popular struggles for emancipation in the country and called on the people, progressive social movements and left-wing political forces to press for a social transformation process based on the urgent needs of the people.
They called on the people to demand immediate measures to combat the health crisis, such as urgent purchase of vaccines, free vaccination of the population, free access to medicines and medical instruments for those infected with COVID 19, increase in the public health and education budgets, and insurance for all medical personnel and teachers. They also highlighted the need to take social measures such as free distribution of basic food items to the vulnerable population, an urgent tax on private fortunes without any future remuneration or direct or indirect refund, and trial and punishment of all members of the government who seized public resources and wealth and assurance of the return of land and/or money stolen.
In the statement, the intellectuals also suggested numerous proposals for a transition from the current neoliberal economic model to a social protection model such as nationalization of healthcare, education, transportation, food chain, financial system, essential services; minimum income to cover basic needs, protection of natural resources and financial support to small scale enterprises, among various others.
Due to the pressure and political opposition on the streets, there have already been several changes in the cabinet. On March 6, health minister Julio Mazzoleni announced his resignation, a day after the Senate approved a declaration which called on him to resign for his role in the mismanagement of the pandemic. On March 10, the president of the Social Welfare Institute (IPS) Andrés Gubetich resigned amid a corruption scandal linked to the diversion of essential medicines. However, the protesters considered it insufficient and reiterated that their primary demand is the president and vice-president’s resignations.