The Paraguayan government agreed yesterday to meet with former workers who have nailed themselves to wooden crosses over a wage dispute, 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 with the protesters on Jan. 26. "With this news, we will cancel the sixth crucifixion," says organizer Carlos Gonzalez, but he adds 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 latest protest began Dec. 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 3-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. Organizers say at least 20 other people are prepared to be nailed to crosses if they are not given what they want. Gonzalez says some 9,000 workers are owed about $40,000 in back pay and other benefits for work they did at the dam at various times during construction from 1974 to 1996. Itaipu argues it isn't responsible for the disputed wages because the work was contracted out to various construction companies.