She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “When I was just 18 years old I went for the first time to Asunción, the capital of the country, trying to escape from the extreme poverty that afflicted the farming community. In Asunción I worked as a maid in the houses of important families, and I was able to see another reality. Then I began to ask myself why my family was so poor while other people had such a good life. Like many other young girls there, I suffered the consequences of being uprooted”.
She says also: “With my parents agreement I moved to the district of Misiones. There, with the help of an uncle who was a catholic priest, I entered the Catholic Agrarian Youth (JAC), where I became one of the leaders. This organisation was a wing of the famous Agrarian League that tried to provide the rural communities with new forms of production based on community work. Three months later this militancy took me to jail”.
Sorry, I can not find any photo showing the person of Maggiorina Balbuena, Paraguay.
She works for the National Coordination of Organizations of Female Peasants and Indigenous Women.
Maggiorina Balbuena used to get up at four o’clock every morning, and by the pale light that shone from a homemade night light, she prepared the few implements that she would take to school. She dressed in threadbare overalls. That was her uniform. She had no shoes on her feet. She walked miles to the small, rural school in the Karanday’ty Colony (Karanday: Totora. A plant similar to a palm tree- Karanday’ty: Palm grove).
Today known as Genaro Romero, part of the city of Coronel Oviedo (Coronel Oviedo: the most important city of the Caaguazú district due to its economic development).
This was Maggie’s routine, the routine of a fighter like few others. She fought for the cause of the Paraguayan farmers. The routine was repeated every day except at sowing and harvest times when she worked on the farm wearing her hat made of pirí (Pirí: rush, reed, a plant of high canes that once dried are used as the raw material for handcraft work. Hat pirí: a handmade Paraguayan hat). She was born into a family of farmers from a rural community located in one of the most inhospitable wooded zones of Paraguay. She grew up with the green colour of the fields and she lived with the twin evils of poverty and exclusion.
In 1971 and after thinking carefully about it, Maggi decided to leave in order to seek out a better life for her people.
“Although we were threatened several times, along with other companions we went secretly into the communities to lead workshops on techniques for cultivation, animal husbandry, elementary health and domestic economy. We went by foot or by horse to the most distant points, to the most isolated rural communities of the district of Misiones”.
In 1973 she met her partner and a year later her first son was born. 1975 was the year of one of the darkest and cruellest chapters in the Dictatorship’s history: a succession of violent days of repression that had as its target farmers, leaders, women, children and priests, all members of the Ligas Agrarias Campesinas (Ligas Agrarias: a movement inside the Paraguayan Catholic Church that sought to relieve the social and economic situation of farmers during the Dictatorship. It tried to promote new productive models based on community work. The members of the Ligas Agrarias were violently repressed, women were raped, men disappeared and/or were tortured and the children were snatched away from their parents and their communities).
Maggi was six months pregnant.” My husband and I escaped before dawn and ran for hours with only the clothes we wore. We carried our little son in our arms. We walked for many hours in the middle of the forest and remained there for one week, until the situation was calmer. We crossed the border into Brazil without a single document, and without a single penny in our pocket”.
And Maggi remembers the experience of one of her companions. “Both men and women were captured and among those captured was Rosita. When she was caught, she had her baby in her arms. He was just half a year old. They locked her up in a cell in the Department of Investigations where she was subjected to interrogations and torture for three to four hours a day. She was forced to leave the baby on the floor.
Then almost dead, expelling blood from the ears and the mouth, she took him, weak after so many hours weeping and began to breastfeed him”.
In 1977 Maggi entered the country secretly with her two children. She got into contact again with the organizations of farmers who worked clandestinely to re-form the National Committee for the Reorganization of the Farmers. In 1980, she was key in founding the Paraguayan Farmers Movement (the MCP), in the district of Caaguazú. She was the only female founding member.
“In 1985, four years before the fall of the Dictatorship, a group of companions who had been long serving members of the MCP and other organizations, created the Coordinación de Mujeres Campesinas, the union of women farmers. I still remember now the great motivation this organization gave us and how much it united us”.
In 1994 the union united more than 40 thousand male and female farmers in the Mesa Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (the MCNOC), a national coordination for farming organizations. A year later they would celebrate a great march.
“All the regions of the country sent delegations to this march. We met in strategically important points and from those places we went to Asunción to put our case before the new national authorities. I can still remember how the inhabitants of the capital stared at the farmers. Those farmers filled the streets of Asunción with faces tanned by the sun, with rough hands and bare feet, the women farmers with their children in their arms. They went there to ask the government for real agrarian reform”.
All this dedication to the cause of the farmers took a great toll on the personal life of this fighter.
Her husband sank into alcoholism forgetting all the promises about love, respect and family union. The separation was inevitable.
Nevertheless, the thing that would crown all her achievements and fulfil her yearnings was without doubt the foundation in 1999 of the Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones de Mujeres Trabajadoras Rurales e Indígenas (CONAMURI), the national union of rural workers and indigenous women’s organizations, of which Maggiorina is head.
“There was not much difference between the shortages we experienced as farmers and the ones experienced by our indigenous companions. So the union was born like a natural symbiosis, in which we shared pains and hopes, going ahead to work for better living conditions for all of us”.
As the leader of this organization Maggi travels throughout Paraguay promoting community projects, mostly to do with production, that aim to lead to better conditions of life for the indigenous and rural communities. “Our companions feel fortified.
They can now bring into their homes sustenance generated by themselves, the fruits of their own efforts”.
It is not strange to see Maggi carrying flags, giving support to and bringing cohesion to other sister organizations and to human rights organizations, or leading enabling and training programs for indigenous and rural populations. She has lately also campaigned for a legal ban on the indiscriminate use of toxic agrarian substances.
Maggiorina, who continues her work for CONAMURI, expresses herself thus: “My immediate goal is to manage to integrate all the indigenous companions into this organization and then to drive concrete actions for the achievement of state plans that help them to improve their living conditions. When I see that they have the minimum they deserve as human beings, then I will know that I have done something”.
To talk about Maggi could fill several volumes of a book. Her greatness is too big to be described in a few pages. She is a woman, a farmer, who made sense of her condition and taught other rural women that they also have the right to wideropportunities. (1000peacewomen).
Read: UNFPA’s 102 pdf-pages doc: Discriminaciones y Medidas Antidiscriminatorias, Volumen 2.
Campesinas: Paraguay: Campesinas en movilización De Clyde Soto Paraguay: Campesinas en movilización “Maggiorina Balbuena, de la Coordinación de Mujeres Campesinas, expresó a la prensa local que no pueden seguir esperando promesas, «porque está en juego la sobrevivencia de 5 mil familias campesinas e indígenas que forman parte de cerca de 400 comités de mujeres organizadas de once departamentos del país que forman la coordinadora» (ABC, 16/10/00). Aunque la demanda especificaba un monto de 2 millones de dólares para atender las demandas de estas familias del campo, las mujeres accedieron a la firma de un convenio por valor de 500 mil dólares con la Secretaría de la Mujer, el Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería y el Proyecto Red CIDEM. (full text).
Read: Discriminaciones, a 394 pdf-pages spanish text.
Read: Modern, Indigenous, Woman, Female Agriculturalists, Sustainability, and Development in the Highlands of Ecuador, a 64 pdf-pages text.
ÍNDICES DEL ANUARIO MUJER DESDE 1989 HASTA 1999, Área Mujer del Centro de Documentación y Estudios (CDE), Asunción – Paraguay;