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Sunday, June 7, 2009


Sundays are slow, quiet days in Asuncion (like in Quito), with most people spending the day with their families rather than worrying about gringo touristy things to do. So, we started out slow and walked downtown past the pantheon of martyrs and to a bookstore that was closed. We continued on to an old train station that had an artisan market set up in it. We then slowly drifted back to the hotel, stopping for lunch along the way.

In the afternoon we headed to an area of slums along the river on the edge of Auncion known as Los Banados. The slum lies right under the city's skyline. People first came here from the countryside about 100 years ago. 65,000 families now live in this area. New people live closer to the river, often on landfills and trash dumps that slowly reclaim land along the river banks. Most people survive on a hand-to-mouth existence, living off of economic activities like raising pigs or recycling trash. Twenty percent of the people have formal sector employment, and the rest engage in a variety of survival strategies.

We met community organizer Patricio Pinto who walked us through the area. He said that the community had done everything, that the government had very little presence here. Community members organized themselves into the Coordinadora de los Banados with the goal of building better roads and more dignified housing.

Maria Garcia works with women's organizations. Often women lead the community organizing efforts.

Buses do not come into the neighborhood because they are afraid of crime in the area. But local organizers say that crime exists everywhere in Asuncion, and that these companies ignore problems of white collar crime. This is known as the criminalization of poverty.

Carlos Hector Ferrera in the Pasaje San Agustin area of Los Banados lives off of recycling trash. He complained that recently prices have been dropping, with capitalists gobbling up the profit margins. He used to be able to sell plastic bottles for 1300G but now it has dropped to 1000G; paper has dropped even more, from 8000 to 300G.

Our final stop was in San Miguel which used to be a military brick factory. Five years ago people started to move into this area. It has the advantage of being higher and sandier than surrounding areas, so it does not get flooded as easily or as often. Community leader Juan Martinez complains that Asuncion's mayor promises aid, but she was a TV personality not a politician and does not know how to follow through on her promises. The result is that the people in the community are left behind.

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