Paraguay: first general strike in 20 years

Starting on the evening of March 25, thousands of Paraguayan unionists, campesinos and students participated in a 24-hour general strike to protest the economic policies of President Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara. Union sources said the action shut down transportation, schools and most businesses in Asunción. This was the country's first general strike in 20 years, and the first major demonstration against the government since President Cartes' inauguration last August. Cartes, a member of the rightwing Colorado Party, was elected in April 2013; the previous elected president, the left-leaning former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo, was removed from office by Congress in a de facto coup on June 22, 2012, one year before the end of his term.

The general strike was sponsored by a broad range of organizations, including the Classist Union Current (CSC), the Organization of Education Workers of Paraguay-National Union (OTEP-SN), the National Campesino Federation (FNC) and the leftist Paraguay Pyahurã Party (PPP). It was scheduled to coincide with the Poor Campesinos' March, an event campesino groups have held for 21 years to press for agrarian reform. The campesinos were also demanding controls over the prices of staple products and an end to an agricultural system based on large estates. Unionists were calling for a 25% increase in the minimum wage and were protesting the Public-Private Alliance Law, a proposal by Cartes that opponents see as a way to privatize public infrastructure, such as water treatment plants, Asunción's international airport and toll highways from the capital to Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. Cartes had raised the minimum wage by 10% in February, from 1,658,232 to 1,824,005 guaranís a month (about US$373 to about US$410), but he acted without consulting union leaders, who dismissed the raise as inadequate.

The general strike opened with a music festival at the Plaza de la Democracia in Asunción the evening of March 25 and a gathering of campesinos in front of the city's cathedral. The government mobilized 26,000 agents of the National Police to monitor the strike and guard presidential offices and the Congress building, but there appeared to be no reports of violence. (Adital, Brazil, March 26; InfoBAE, Argentina, March 26; Mercopress, Uruguay. March 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 30.