By Gustavo Setrini, a Paraguayan political scientist and Assistant Professor of Food Studies at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education, Culture and Human Development and a Faculty Affiliate of the NYU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
University students are making history in Paraguay in what is being dubbed La Primavera Estudiantil (the Student Spring). Over the last weeks, they have mobilized one of the largest protest movements in the country’s history, demanding democratic reforms to the governance statutes of the National University of Asunción (UNA). Should they succeed, it will arguably mark the first time in the country’s modern history that major national reforms result from social movement pressure. The success that student protesters have had in mobilizing massive support and sympathy both reveals important changes in Paraguayan politics and has potential to transform it further still.
Over the last weeks, protests have attracted upward of 10,000 students and unified the university’s 12 schools in a strike and a campus sit-in that has paralyzed the university. Students have pledged to lift the strike only when university leaders accept four basic reforms to university governance: the elimination of the absolute majority currently held by professors in the university governing assembly that is composed of elected representatives of the professors, students, and alumni from each of the 12 faculties; term limits for elected university leadership positions; a ban on the “personal appointees” (“cargos de confianza”) of university leaders running for and occupying elected voting positions in the university governing bodies; and the creation of an independent electoral commission to regulate university elections.
In response to student mobilizations, the university assembly has called a meeting today to debate and vote on the proposed changes to the university statutes. On two earlier occasions in the last two months, the assembly met and voted down the students’ proposals, provoking further mobilization from the students.