Paraguayans wage struggle against Abdo’s anti-people policies

Since Monday, doctors, Indigenous people, peasants and teachers have been mobilizing against different policies of president Mario Abdo Benítez’s government

October 03, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Since September 27, thousands of doctors across Paraguay have been striking to demand equalization of salary and workload, and a greater budget for public healthcare. Photo: SINAMED/Twitter

Thousands of Paraguayan doctors, Indigenous people, peasants and teachers have waged a struggle against the far-right government of president Mario Abdo Benítez. Since the beginning of this week, the diverse sectors have been mobilizing against the neoliberal economic policies of the national government.

On September 27, doctors across the South American country began a 14-day strike,  demanding equalization of salary and workload. They are demanding an increase in salary and reduction in working hours for those doctors who have been working more than their colleagues for the same salary. They are demanding that the government comply with an agreement signed on expansion of the healthcare budget for 2022 and immediately allocate the resources to compensate the doctors justly for their work. They are also demanding that the on-call shifts be limited to 12 hours per week per doctor.

After a dialogue process in June, the finance ministry reduced the burden of on-call shifts for medical professionals with over 55 years of age and over 20 years of service. However, the already exploited young healthcare professionals were excluded from benefiting from the provision. The doctors are demanding the implementation of the measure for all physicians, regardless of their age.

The call for the strike was given by the National Union of Doctors (SINAMED). Rossana González, general secretary of the SINAMED, told local media that there are around 3,200 doctors who face this exploitation. González stressed that “with an equal hourly burden and no pay distinction, none of our colleagues will feel discriminated against or exhausted in their workplace.”

During these two weeks of strike, the doctors will continue to attend emergency, intensive care units and hospitalized patients. However, consultations, scheduled surgeries and other services will be affected. Thousands of doctors have been demonstrating in different parts of the country since Monday to draw attention towards their legitimate demands and the strengthening of public healthcare in the country.

Likewise, since September 29, thousands of peasants and members of Indigenous communities have taken over the main square of the capital Asuncion, protesting a bill that tightens the law against illegal occupation of private lands in the country. The bill, recently approved in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, increases prison sentences for land invasions to six years and up to ten years in case of damage to property.

The protesters are demanding that president Abdo veto the law, considering that it does not take into account the dire situation of Indigenous and peasant communities, which have been demanding land reform for years. They denounced that for decades, Indigenous and peasant communities had been crushed by drug traffickers, soy farmers, and large ranchers, who stripped them of their lands, forcing them to migrate to cities and live in very poor conditions.

The leader of the Canindeyú area, Julián Ramírez, assured, for his part, that they will continue the protests until their demands are fulfilled. “For us, this is a life and death struggle. We understand that our rights are being violated, they want to criminalize our struggle, but we are going to continue in the square, the decision has been made,” said Ramírez.

Similarly, the legislators of the left-wing Guasu Front have opposed the bill and denounced that it seeks to criminalize the protests and struggle of peasants and Indigenous people for their right to land.

For the last two days, the officials of the national police force have been violently repressing the protesters demonstration in front of the Congress with water cannons and tear gas. According to reports, at least eight protesters have been injured.

Additionally, on October 1, thousands of teachers mobilized in the capital, demanding compliance with law 6672, passed in 2018, that establishes a gradual 16% increase in the salaries of educators starting this month. They rejected the decision announced by the education and science ministry to increase the salary by only 8%.

Eladio Benítez, secretary of the National Union of Educators-National Union (UNE-SN), described the announcement as “a big slap in the face of the education sector since the law establishes that the conditions are in place for the readjustment of salary for teachers, which is 16% since the tax collection establishes it.”

The protest was called for by the UNE-SN. It received the support of the Federation of Paraguayan Educators (FEP) and Authentic Paraguayan Education Workers’ Organization (OTEP-A), which have also announced to suspend online classes in case of noncompliance.