Paraguayans Unite Against Militarism

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By María Elena Meza Barboza, Movimiento de Objeción de Conciencia Paraguay

In Paraguay, the poorest sectors of society are criminalised through the state machine, its military, police and even judicial structures, which pave the way for repressing or depriving people of their access to basic facilities, such as sanitation, education and housing.

Militarism in Paraguay

In Paraguay, the military is still very strong in terms of its structure, in the sense that there are many cartels or military detachments. Furthermore, a greater budget is allocated to the military than to health and education. This diversion of economic and human resources to the military is harmful to the population because of the army’s repression of the people, especially affecting the poorest sectors of society.

Despite the State, with its military and police structures, having improved in many aspects regarding democracy, there is still a long way to go. This is because this institution does not protect its people. We also have problems relating to judicial power: it only exists for the powerful and those who have money.

Recently, the military has had too much time and money on their hands. First they created the conflict with Bolivia [1]. Then they started repressing, or generating fear amongst, the people. They would be outside schools with their weapons and uniform so that nobody would misbehave, because the schoolchildren would protest — including breaking down doors — if the authorities tried to confront them.
From then on they were all over the capital — they were in schools, in shopping centres, in squares, on street corners, everywhere; at one point it seemed like we were in a state of siege.

Then it seemed that the number of soldiers on the streets had decreased, perhaps due to the different actions which we carried out as MOC (Movimiento de Objeción de Conciencia — Conscientious Objection Movement), and also due to the pressure of society in general. Then, however, the state created an urban guard in Asunción which was only for the city centre. At that point this urban force was expanding slowly so as not to draw attention to themselves and they were skirting round El Banado, which is the area where the poor live (well, according to the army, they are criminals).

Within the country, they also had the idea of invading the territories of the campesino (rural farmers) and indigenous settlements [2], in addition to the continued coercions and the fact that the campesino protests resulted in deaths.

The Antimilitarist Movement in Paraguay

From the very beginning, MOC was the only antimilitarist movement which continued to oppose the armed forces and the violent culture of our country. Although this is a country which preserves military culture, such as patriarchy, machismo, submission and violent conflict resolution, our movement has been struggling against these values since the beginning. It has not been easy, but now we can say we have made great progress with satisfactory achievements. Above all, we are visible in society: one of these achievements is having established the right to conscientious objection and there continue to be people who declare themselves as objectors, not only in Asunción but throughout the entire country.

The declaration of objectors has been possible because we broke with the fear concerning the right of objection. This fear still existed even once the right to object had been enshrined in the National Constitution.

In 1995 the first female conscientious objector publicly declared herself as such [3]. Since then, women of MOC have declared themselves as objectors on a daily basis. Another group of women declared themselves as objectors in 2002 [4], includeding some famous women. Another group of women of MOC and from society in general publicly declared themselves in 2004, but the Congress did not want to issue conscientious objector cards to the women because the Constitution does not impose compulsory military service for women.

Furthermore, the way in which we resolve conflicts and the nonviolent actions which we carry out are being considered as alternatives which people are using and including in their groups. Very often, other movements call us to ask for training as to what NVDA (NonViolent Direct Action) is, and they ask us to be their security force in their demonstrations. This shows that people prefer our approach, which provides nonviolent solutions to conflicts.

We are allies of many social movements, as well as student movements from Banados, children and teenager’s movements, health, victims of Ycuá Bolaños (a big supermarket that burned down on 1 August 2004, leaving almost 400 dead and more than 500 injured), etc. And this gives us the strength to do things everyday, because this means social recognition. It means that what we are doing is worth it even if we are a small movement. Despite there being only about 10 of us, we are very happy doing what we are doing.

Being a Conscientious Objector

In MOC, there is only one organisation, both for men and women. There are no differences and there is no separate feminist anitimilitarist movement. There is only one organisation for women antimilitarists and our activities are based on the significance of antimilitarism, conscientious objection and a culture of peace. This is what MOC is about. We appreciate the support of our fellow male colleagues and this is not a problem for the women working in MOC.

Regarding military service, it is obligatory for men, and even children are conscripted, and this happens above all in the heart of the country. The declaration of women objectors is not recognised by the state because the law on military service does not include women, and therefore women are not given permission to object. Despite this, in some cases we do achieve our goals. It all depends on the current situation and the pressure which we exert. In any case, despite these obstacles, there are many women objectors.

People in society often ask why there are women in the movement if the military service is not obligatory for them. People think that objection only affects men. Fortunately, we have shown on more than one occasion that this is not the case and that militarism affects all of us, that violence affects us all. Within the movement, there is no opposition to women objectors.

Many people think that MOC is a movement which is made up of men only, but MOC, since the beginning, was a group made up of both men and women where everyone has the same influence in the decision-making process, as these decisions are made based on consensus. At some point in the movement's history, there were more women than men within the movement. This is seen in a positive rather than a negative light, as it gives the movement more strengh and legitimacy. Furthermore, people ask us women why we are part of MOC given that the military service does not affect us. We always reply that it does affect us. It affects all of us; women, children and adults in general, because we all want a better life. Every individual who is part of this society contributes to this society we live in, be it in the taxes we pay, in the social movements we join, fighting for a certain ideology, through our jobs — simply not doing anything can also be counted as being complicit with the military system. Therefore, the MOC women decided to be antimilitarist because every day we are working together so as to change this machista culture which exists in Paraguayan society and which affects us so much. We want to end the domination of the powerful classes over the poor, over children, over indigenous populations and also over us women. Therefore we are doing our part every single day.

We do not like the offer which the armed forces and the State have made to their citizens. They say, “We are giving women a sphere of influence. See, we are not machista anymore, we are no longer discriminating against women as they too can serve in the military.” But we ask what purpose this serves, as they are merely going to learn the same concepts which have always been taught in the armed forces: to kill, torture, oppress the people, and be complicit in injustices carried out by the government in power at the time.

So, in relation to the incorporation of women into the armed forces, we do not agree that women have to have the same role as men, within the military, as we believe that these roles are not appropriate. We believe that the military academy is not a good place for women. In fact, it is not a good place for anybody.

From a gender perspective, an important way in which militarism affects us are the values, values which are deeply rooted in culture and within the militias — and these are values which we want to put an end to. We want to put an end to military culture in schools, in the streets, in the home, everywhere. In the country, both men and women are affected by militarism, as there is repression of social struggles, be it a struggle which defends women’s rights or any other rights, and this repression is even worse in rural areas. However, when it comes to military values, it is often women who suffer more than men, as this is a very machista country. Even nowadays, despite efforts being made by many organisations to change the situation, machismo is still a very common practice not only amongst men or within institutions which promote these sorts of values, such as the armed forces, but also amongst women, especially those living in rural areas. Here are just a few examples to illustrate my point better.

Household chores are always carried out by women; women must always serve men. Young girls are taught that they have to do the domestic chores and that they need to serve men from childhood onwards — for example, serving brothers, and this is endorsed by the majority of society and people are surprised if a man, for example, washes his own clothes or carries out household chores if they are living with their partner, with a woman or with their mother or sister. In general, this is seen as strange or the woman is considered as lazy.

The same thing happens in terms of sexual freedom: if men enjoy themselves, they are idolised and praised, whereas if a woman does the same she is considered to be a woman without morals. One must recognise that this situation has improved in the capital and in more urban areas, but this is still a common attitude in the countryside.

As a final example, in terms of women’s civil status when they are married, once they get married women automatically have to adopt the husband’s surname. If you do not want to adopt the surname, you have to officially declare that you do not wish to use it and only once this official declaration has been made can you continue to use your own maiden name. This is ridiculous because everyone identifies who you are based on your name and you should be comfortable with your own name and therefore women should have the right to choose their identity.

Finally, I want to say that in recent years, there have been more women than men in MOC. We looked at the possibility of creating a separate antimilitarist feminist group and we decided that it was not necessary to separate ourselves from our male colleagues in order to discuss feminism or antimilitarism because we believe that we can address these issues together and carry out projects within MOC.

Thanks to Francesca Denley for translation from Spanish to English

References

[1] “The president of Paraguay confirms that a conflict with Bolivia is possible inorder to justify the increase in military budget”. http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=37547
[2] http://elyacare.wordpress.com/2008/01/23/denuncian-en-paraguay-atropell…
[3] This declaration is presented along with the article.
[4] This declaration is presented along with the article.

Brief history of the Antimilitarist Movement in Paraguay

The story of MOC (Movimiento de Objeción de Conciencia — Conscientious Objection Movement) goes back to 1981, demanding the elimination of obligatory military service. The initial intention was to ask for the abolition of military service, but then this changed to calling for the recognition of conscientious objection, as a transition proposal.

  • In 1992 the Constituent Convention approved in very restrictive terms an article on conscientious objection relating to military service.
  • In 1993, the first objectors' group was set up. With the support of Serpaj-Paraguay, antimilitarist training was expanded. The first presentation was prepared, support groups were trained, a communication strategy was drawn up, etc. There was great fear of a repressive legal or illegal reaction. Later that year the first group of five objectors presented themselves and achieved impressive media coverage. The military preferred not to react against the emergence of this first group of objectors.
  • In 1994 there was a second group, of seven conscientious objectors.
  • MOC was founded on 17 August, and the third group of objectors declared themselves, made up of five objectors and the first female objector. The Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies decided to receive all the declarations of conscientious objection and to hand in written evidence of these declarations. It was at this point that the Conscientious Objection Movement (MOC) was created.
  • 24 July 1995 – the Day of the Army and inauguration of the parade of general Lino Oviedo. Direct actions of MOC and other political groups were carried out during the ceremony and there was strong repression enacted by the military and the police.
  • On 9 August the group of women antimilitarists of MOC presented themselves (see the declaration on page 127).
  • On 15 December MOC received the Memorial Prize for Peace and Solidarity with the People, which was awarded by Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.
  • In 1996, with the help of MOC, the National Worker’s Centre launched the campaign “Enough of compulsory military service”).
  • In 1997, forced recruitment in rural zones within the country gained strength. The churches demanded legislation for the right to conscientious objection with wide-ranging guarantees.
  • In October 1997, 81 social and campesino organisations called on Congress to reduce its military spending by 25%, while the 1998 budget was being drawn up.

Thanks to Francesca Denley for translation from Spanish to English

Published in Women Conscientious Objectors - An Anthology

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