La Huelga General

Yesterday was a national day of protests, marches and strikes in Paragauy.

Every March in Asunción, there is a large gathering of campesinos (or peasant farmers) who come from the coutryside into the city to draw attention to their plight.

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They meet in a central location and then march to Congress or another federal government building in the city. Their demands include land reform, salary increases, free quality healthcare and education, and a ban of agro-toxins.

This year, for the first time the annual campesino march coincided with a march by students and a strike by many of the country’s unions.

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The students were protesting the cost of transportation and are asking for a half-price fare for all students. Currently, a ride on a city bus costs about $0.45 for rides that start and end within the city limits. For those bus rides that originate outside of Asunción and travel into the city, the fare is about $.55. The bus fares were recently increased which resulted in much anger and protesting across the city.

The unions that went on strike included many from the transportation sector including bus drivers and cab drivers.

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The unions want a repeal of Paraguay’s recently-enacted Public Private Alliance, fearing that such an alliance will be corrupt, that state-owned companies will be privatized and that cost of services will go up. In addition, unions are asking for a 25% increase to the minimum wage and better working conditions. Currently, the minimum wage is about $400/month or about $16/day.

Beginning at midnight yesterday, there were roadblocks set up by protesters at multiple locations around the city. Police also set up roadblocks, preventing access to some major streets and buildings.

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Even the nudists of Paraguay got in on the protesting yesterday. In addition to supporting an increase of the minimum wage and the repeal of the Public Private Alliance, the nudists want to “express themselves freely in a private atmosphere.” Yesterday, most nudists decided not to be completely “free” and instead most wore only undergarments.

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There were even protesters who were protesting the protests, encouraging people to work for a better country by going to work and doing their jobs.

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At the end of the day, the protests remained peaceful and uneventful. The protesters delivered their messages and today are back at work.

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