“What Cartes proposes is violence, hunger and misery”, says Bernardo Rojas.
By: Leonardo Severo / Source: Brasil de Fato / The Dawn News / July 7, 2017
In a visit to the national headquarters of Brazil’s Unified Workers’ Central (CUT) in Sao Paulo, last Monday, the President of the Unified Workers’ Central of Paraguay (CUT-Auténtica) Bernardo Rojas, vehemently denounced the abuses committed by the President of his country, Horacio Cartes.
Rojas accuses Cartes of following the steps of General Alfredo Stroessner, who led a bloody pro-US dictatorship between 1954 and 1989. “What Cartes proposes is violence, hunger and misery”, he synthesized.
What’s the current situation in Paraguay?
We’re going through a very hard time, particularly for workers and for unions who seek to guarantee rights, confronting Cartes’ government, which worsens the situation of violence, unemployment, hunger and misery. According to the State’s own data, poverty escalated in urban and rural areas. Around two million of Paraguay’s seven million inhabitants suffer from hunger in this country where land is abundant. Our minimum wage is half of what’s needed to satisfy basic needs. Eight out of ten workers are not legally employed and only 18% of wage-earning people have social security. Even though the economy is growing, it remains highly concentrated.
Unfortunately, this government rules in favor of soy producers—who don’t pay taxes—, for bankers and for big cattle owners.
What’s the situation of the union movement?
Cartes has already declared that he sees unions as enemies of development and therefore they must be combatted, persecuted and imprisoned—like all other opposition movements. Many union leaders have been laid off by companies that are protected by the Work ministry, which takes the side of companies. They don’t register nor legalize unions so that workers are left without representation and without rights.
Take for example the JBS Meat Processing Plant in San Antonio, a municipality 30 meters away from the capital. A clandestine meeting was celebrated last weekend to prepare the creation of the union. Next Monday, as soon as the workers arrived, first hour in the morning, they were all fired. The Minister has backed this absurd persecutions—for this he was even denounced recently and included in the list of 24 cases that will be investigated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) for serious violations.
Some are denouncing that the government has co-opted some unions
Sadly this is correct. Our National Plenary acts jointly in defense of social and labor rights. Besides the CUT-A, it is made up of the CESIT-P, the CONAT the Legitimate CNT and the Fenaes (student organization). On the other hand, four small union centrals support the government’s measures, against the best interest of the working class.
How are the other movements resisting?
Since the criminalization of social movements is real, resistance also multiplies. They have imprisoned Stiben Patrón, a young leader who seeks a fairer, more democratic country; and the peasants in Curuguaty, who struggle for the agrarian reform. Stiben Patron was arrested for carrying on him a bottle of vinegar to protect himself from the tear gas of the police. They said it was a molotov cocktail. I’ve visited him recently he’s locked in a maximum security prison for dissenting with the government. He’s a political prisoner of a government that only speaks the language of violence,because it protects the interests of drug trafficking, black markets and money laundering, like the Amambay Bank. There’s a lot of pressure right now to release Stiben, there’s even a tent in front of the house of the judge who is dealing with his case, and people are handing out leaflets right there. There’s also the recent case of a couple of journalists who criticized Cartes and were threatened with jail time. The only reason that threat didn’t become a reality was the mobilization of public opinion.
What do you think of the upcoming elections in 2018?
Currently there’s no visible candidate of the left. The agreement between Lugo and Cartes in the Parliament was a betrayal to our people* and it will come at a price for the Guasu front, which had been seen as the option for the people. Protesters were outraged by Cartes’ proposal to violate the Constitution and approve his re-election as President, and they set the Parliament on fire: a clear message of rejection to the measure and of an increasing opposition. Now we have Cartes, who incarnates neoliberalism with violence.
*Lugo and his Guasu front had been Cartes’ opposition up until that point. Lugo was overthrown by an institutional coup led by Cartes in 2012.