A group of Paraguayans is resorting to a Biblical form of punishment to make their voices heard —they're literally nailing themselves to the cross.
And crucifixion, it turns out, is an effective form of protest in a deeply Catholic country.
Paraguay’s government recently said it would sit down with five former workers who have been staging a public crucifixion for weeks outside the Brazilian embassy in Asuncion. The group claims they are owed thousands of dollars in back pay for work they did on a hydroelectric dam that is jointly operated by the two neighboring countries.
The protest in one of South America’s most pious countries began in November, when three of the unemployed workers decided the only way they could draw attention to their plight was to crucify themselves. Two others joined their protest.
For weeks, the sight of the group lying on their backs nailed to makeshift wooden crosses under the scorching sun summer did little to elicit a response from government officials. But the group persisted, knowing that similar protests in the past eventually yielded results.
Over the past two years, several groups of Paraguayan bus drivers have nailed themselves to crosses to protest losing their jobs. One man went so far as to sew his mouth shut.
After several weeks of protest, one of the groups of drivers eventually won their jobs back in 2013.
Dominique Demelene, a sociologist and professor at the Catholic University in Asuncion, said the crucifixion-style protest has emerged in part because of Paraguayans’ frustration with the country’s legal system. He says labor unions wield little influence in Paraguay and filing legal complaints can be costly and time-consuming, leaving many to believe they have little or no recourse through proper channels.
“Some people see this as a faster way to call attention to their cause,” he said.
The group of unemployed dam workers outside the Brazilian embassy spend their days flat on their backs, occasionally sipping water. They come off the crosses at night to sleep in nearby tents.
The protesters are given local anesthetics before nailing their hands to the cross.
It's still not clear whether the government will meet the group's demands, but for now the protesters are determined to stick around.