The Bosses

One knows when elections in Paraguay are on their way because public works, so long neglected, magically get finished in record time. The muddy street next to my school got cobblestones and it took less than a month. In a few weeks the highway by my house got repaved. The candidates also advertise themselves with signs plastered on every power pole and billboards propped above faithful business fronts. Conversations about what needs to happen in the community become more pointed, people of the same party meet to discuss politics, and candidates start visiting their supporters.

In other words, when elections are around the corner in Paraguay it’s not so different from September of a US election year. But, it is different when the elections are over and everyone is settled into their winning posts.

Paraguay is still a land with a mark of political corruption and political bosses —I guess you can argue the same for the States in some areas. Corruption by nature is often hard to see, especially from my view as an outsider, but Paraguayans grumble about it. The mayor a few towns over from my site was found guilty of taking large sums of money from the town coffers, yet I think someone told me he might run again. While I will leave the judgement of how much corruption there is among politicians in Paraguay to someone who has quantifiable data, political bosses are hard to miss for even someone like me who tries to steer clear of all Paraguayan politics.

Like most places, or at least the limited list of places I know, the best way to get a job in Paraguay is to know someone who has an “in” and who can help one by-pass the black pit of faceless applications. This is particularly important in a high context culture like Paraguay, where who one knows or is related to is often more important than what one achieved. Relationships in Paraguay are built over long conversations that develop slowly. Time saving and directness are not part of the traditional culture. But, in Paraguay there is often a deeper level of connectedness that will win one a good job, not just an okay job, and that is the political boss. If you’re like me and know US history by way of the different immigration movements and development of labor unions, you will know that politicians in the States had a long history of giving out jobs to win votes and saving the best posts for their most fervent supporters. And that is Paraguay today in a nutshell.

I don’t mean to say that without a political connection it is impossible to work in Paraguay, because that is not true, and I can’t speak for all Paraguayan towns when it comes to politics and work. But, this is what I can say. I’ve talked to a mother about her visiting the mayor so her daughter doesn’t have to…and the daughter ends up with a job in the city government. I know families that tow the party line and get side jobs in the local government, to supplement the money they already earn. I have seen families take steps to ensure that someone from their family is always at the political meetings and that the candidates they support pay them a visit to hear the family’s ideas. I don’t yet know first hand what will come of the political meetings and candidate visits, but if unemployed members of those families get work when their candidate wins, that will make me think a political boss had something to do with it.