Fabio and Nicolas, the dudes from Asuncion, came to pick us up from the hotel in Foz de Iguazu at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning. We had spent the 24th in Foz, visiting one of world’s natural wonders, the Iguazu Falls (Iguazu is guarani and means “big water”) and holding a free day. Foz de Iguazu is a town at the crossing of two rivers that divide three countries: Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
After crossing the bridge to Paraguay, the next challenge was to see whether Bhairavi, our Indian member, would be admitted to Paraguay. She had tried to get a visa to Paraguay earlier, but could not manage to do that within the travelling timetable. Getting it in India itself would have taken three weeks. So, we decided to have a go at it at the border.
On the Paraguay side of the river is the town called Ciudad del Este. The town is a well known salesplace for contraband technology: smuggled hi-tech in prices that that are among the cheapest in the world, in shops owned by Chinese, Indian and Arabic immigrants.
One of the reasons for the disponibility of the “city of the east” as a smuggler’s paradise is that the border is very easy to cross, and in Bhairavi’s case this proved correct as well. Very quickly and easily she got a 3 days transit visa – and we only were to stay in Paraguay less than 24 hours.
Paraguay is a class society, Fabio told us as we rode across the Paraguayan countryside. There’s a rich minority and a poor majority and a very small middle class. Rich landowners own monstrously big farms. The amount of land that one household can own was recently limited radically in neighbouring Bolivia, but the same is not likely to happen in Paraguay. The Bolivian president Evo Morales is backed by strong popular movements that are the motor of the change, whereas while the Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo sympathizes with Evo in speeches, he is not about to do big changes in Paraguay. The contrast in the general standard of life between Paraguay and the rich southern Brazil – where we came from – is visible in the level of infrastructure, housing, cleanliness etc. and to the World Marchers, Paraguay looked like many of the Central American countries – but still clearly richer than Mauritania or Senegal.
After the busride through lush, green countryside across the country, we arrived in Asuncion and to the Humanist Movement social center, where we were received by a bunch of lively young Humanists for a welcoming lunch. Also Tony Robinson and Petra Klein joined us there for the Christmas Day lunch. (From Asuncion, Petra continued to Montevideo, whereas Tony came with us to Resistencia.) Exhausted by the heat of Asuncion and the early travel, we then were taken to accommodation to rest for a while. We have asked for common accommodation from all places where we go, but here exceptionally our short stay was in the houses of local members, which was cozy.
In the late afternoon we participated in a World March press conference in the center of Asuncion, in Hotel Guarani Esplendor. In spite of being Christmas Day in a predominantly Catholic country present were two newspapers, one televisionchannel and one radiochannel. It appeared otherwise as a rather standard press conference, but then someone from the audience started speaking. It was Martin Almada, an educationalist and a true humanist, who was brutally tortured by the Stroessner dictatorship in 1970s and later got the Right Livelihood Prize, known as “the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize” in 2002 (this year it was given to Alyn Ware who coordinated the World March in its starting country, New Zealand). Almada told us that it was exactly in that hotel, where killing and torture in the whole Latin America was planned, during the prehistorical barbarity known as Operation Condor. And enthusiastically he added that today we converted this place into a place from where the humanization of Latin America makes its voice heard! Obviously referring to the times of Operation Condor but also to more recent plots of anti-humanism, Almada also proposed to the 5 points of the World March a sixth point: Constitutional governments are to be respected; a military coup directed towards a legal government cannot be accepted.
Participating in the press conference was also the singer Rolando Chaparro, who talked of the role of artists in building a world of peace and nonviolence, and immediately after the press conference he also practiced what he preached, playing with his band in the festival in front of the hotel. The ones attending the concert, on the evening of Christmas Day when most people are with their families in the countryside, were mostly Humanist Movement members. In Paraguay today the Humanist Movement is mostly composed of youth, in two generations where the older generation is 30something and the younger generation is approximately 18-25 years old. Many have joined during the last year, and are happy about the restructuring process in the movement, because it gives them space to be heard.
In our discussion with the young members in Asuncion, they told that many youth are joining because they recognize a place with a sensibility, a different connection among the people. They recognize a warmth, happiness, a psychological ambit. I was really happy that they told this because in my opinion this is not always understood or appreciated strongly enough: the movement grows because it is an ambit of transformation where we work as equals, not because of the fantastic protagonism of individuals. It is great that we have many wonderful people working in and with the movement – just remembering the speeches of Dr.Lafayette in New York and Martin Almeida in Asuncion as some of the shining examples – but the movement is not an individual thing. Individualism is exactly what we need to overcome, and have attention on the whole, on diversity, and opening spaces for new, young people. Because, they also told that another important motive to join is when something not habitual happens, something that moves oneself. When one goes into a situation of doing things, like going to a public square to keep a speech, as they gave as an example. This is what has happened to us who are active members – we know this from our experience. We were 18 years old and went to the street to greet unknown people with an open mind and sincerity, to meet them as humans, to make them think of humanist themes and to tell them about the movement. Maybe we don’t do similar street actions today, since the situation is different. But for example in Asuncion they went to the streets with another kind of an attractive campaign earlier this year, known as “Tits and asses for peace”… Anyway, whatever we do, we should consider seriously what the youth are saying, because the youth are the future, and if you don’t respect the future, you have no future!
Those who come to Punta de Vacas for the final event of the World March, will meet the buses of about 70 youth from Humanizarte and Humarandu clubs of Paraguay there.