Thousands of doctors, peasants, teachers and truckers stage protests in Paraguay

The unions associated with these diverse sectors are demanding compliance with different agreements reached with the far-right government of president Mario Abdo Benítez

August 11, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
The truckers, who have been striking since last week, on August 10, continued the semi-blockade on Costanera avenue with their trucks. Photo: Andrés Catalán/Última Hora

On August 10, thousands of doctors, peasants, teachers and truckers took to the streets of Paraguay’s capital Asunción, demanding compliance with agreements reached previously with the far-right government of president Mario Abdo Benítez.

The truckers continued their semi-blockade on Costanera avenue with their trucks. Teachers mobilized across the capital city and blocked roads leading to parliamentary buildings. Peasants and Indigenous communities held demonstrations in front of the Congress, the state attorney general’s office, and the ministries of public works and communications, agriculture and livestock, and urbanism, housing and habitat. Doctors protested in front of the public health ministry.

The truckers, who have been on strike since last week, say that they are being paid less by agro-exporters for freight. The Truckers’ Federation demands approval and enactment of a freight law, which establishes, among other things, the creation of a technical committee that will determine a minimum standard cost of a freight for tractor-trailer and semi-trailer according to the operational cost, the load with a 25% profit margin.

Ángel Zaracho, president of the truckers union, said that freight drivers cannot continue working under current conditions, when fuel prices have risen three times. He said that they value the efforts made by the executive to pass a decree for the creation of the committee, but insisted on the need to regulate the cost by law and regretted the delay in approving the bill in the Congress. He stressed that the truckers will continue their strike until the legislators approve the said bill.

The peasants, who arrived in the capital from 14 departments of the country the day before, demand compliance with law 6669, which establishes promotional and investment measures for the recovery of family farming. It allocates a sum of 25 million USD to assist small agricultors and boost local production. Of these funds, around 16 million USD are meant to be directly transferred to the beneficiaries for the procurement of essentials and the rest is to be used for the construction of irrigation projects. The law has been in force for eight months, but the resources have not yet been transferred. The peasants’ organizations demand that the money be disbursed before the beginning of the production cycle of this season’s crops.

The teachers, who are carrying out a two-day strike on August 10 and 11, demand compliance with law 6672, passed in 2018, that establishes a gradual 16% increase in the salaries of educators starting this October. The teachers’ union, Federation of Paraguayan Educators (FEP), rejected the bill, underway in the Congress, that temporarily prohibits salary increase for all civil servants to counteract the economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FEP is demanding that the education sector be exempted from the prohibition.

FEP’s president Silvio Piris, while calling for the strike, also condemned the education ministry’s plans to cut the education budget for next year and said that it would cause immense damage to school supplies, feeding programs and infrastructure. “This is very dangerous because it will make the return of students to classrooms more difficult,” stressed Piris.

The doctors came out to protest for salary equalization and to receive a salary according to the hours worked. Rossana González, general secretary of the National Union of Doctors (SINAMED), explained to the local media that “there are doctors working 24 hours, there is another group working half for the same salary” and that the situation “has been dragging on for 10 years.”

The SINAMED is also demanding compliance with an agreement signed on expansion of the healthcare budget to 15 million USD. It demands that the said amount be immediately allocated to compensate the doctors justly for their work during the pandemic. The doctors are also demanding that medical personnel hired in recent months to face the pandemic remain in their jobs.