Protesters nailed to crosses over wage dispute

The Paraguayan government agreed to meet former workers who have nailed themselves to wooden crosses over a wage dispute.

Protesters nailed to crosses over wage dispute

The Paraguayan government agreed to meet former workers who have nailed themselves to wooden crosses over a wage dispute.

It is an increasingly common form of protest in Paraguay that has been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church but has often been successful.

Four men and one woman have been nailed to crosses for several weeks and a sixth person had planned to join them yesterday until Paraguay’s work ministry agreed to meet the protesters on January 26.

“With this news, we will cancel the sixth crucifixion,” said organiser Carlos Gonzalez, but he added that the other five would remain nailed to crosses.

The workers claim they are owed several thousand dollars for work many years ago on the Itaipu Dam, which is on the Parana River shared by Paraguay and Brazil.

The dam, one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric projects, is jointly administered by the two countries.

Ignacio Martiez, a political analyst, said crucifixion protests that began a decade ago are successful because Paraguay’s government tends to address whoever “yells the loudest”.

The latest protest began on December 8 outside the Brazilian Embassy when Roque Samudio, 58, Gerardo Orue, 49 and Roberto Gonzalez, 61, all unemployed, were the first to lie down on large wooden crosses and have three-inch nails driven into their hands.

In recent weeks they were joined by Pablo Garcete, 71, and Rosa Caceres, 52, a mother of nine whose former husband worked on the dam.

Organisers say at least 20 other people are prepared to be nailed to crosses if they are not given what they want.

Mr Gonzalez said some 9,000 workers are owed about US $40,000 in back pay and other benefits for work they did at the dam at various times during construction from 1974 to 1996.

The protesters spend the day lying in the crucifix position on crosses flat on the ground, drinking juice, water and milk while volunteers fan them during blistering summer days.

Since the protest began, temperatures have hovered around 100F (37C). At night, they come off the crosses and sleep in tents.

“They are given massages on their arms, muscles and legs to make sure blood continues to flow without problems,” said Mr Gonzalez.

Before being nailed, the protesters receive local anaesthetic on their hands, said Miguel Samaniego, a former worker who tends to the men.

He said his only medical training was a few first aid classes.

For weeks, Paraguay’s government declined requests for comment on the protest.

But yesterday, work minister Guillermo Sosa said the government would listen to the workers’ complaints at a meeting also attended by representatives from Itaipu.

Itaipu argues it is not responsible for the disputed wages because the work was contracted out to various construction companies.

“They signed a labour agreement with construction companies, not with the binational entity Itaipu,” said spokesman Abel Gimenez.

The workers contend Itaipu is responsible because it approved the subcontracted companies.

Crucifixion protests in Paraguay, a poor, majority Catholic country of about 7 million people, began in 2004 when a disgruntled hospital worker was nailed to a cross.

Since then, the tactic has increasingly been used by people from various sectors when negotiations break down.

The Catholic Church’s Paraguayan Episcopal Conference issued a statement in 2004 condemning the crucifixions, saying such protests had “questionable ethical and religious dimensions”.

“Life is a gift from God. It must be cared for and respected as something sacred,” read the statement, which the church still refers to when asked about the crucifixions.

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