Paraguay: Maggiorina Balbuena

When I was 18 years old, and worked as a maid for important families, I began to ask myself why my own life was so poor when those people could enjoy so much.

— Maggiorina Balbuena

“Maggi”–Maggiorina Balbuena (54)–was born and raised in the countryside where the green color of the foliage is mixed with the yellow color of the maize. She was the oldest daughter, and took care of her nine brothers and sisters as if they were a precious treasure. She learned to cultivate and to love the earth. She suffered from the extreme poverty that enveloped all the peasant farmers. Her awareness and determination to fight came from her background.

Maggiorina Balbuena is a tiny woman with a great commitment to the fierce struggle to reverse the situation endured by the Paraguayan rural population. She was convinced that the rich lived in the cities and the poor in the countryside, and decided to search for a formula that could give relief to the rural workers. At age 21, she entered the Agrarian Catholic Youth, a movement inside the Paraguayan Catholic Church that existed since the period of the Dictatorship. They attempted to create rural communities based on cooperative effort. Due to her militancy in this organization, she was imprisoned. She became a so-called dangerous person. She remembers how they described her: “She is a chattering communist who taught too many things to peasants”–a communist that was already a militant member of the Agrarian Peasant Leagues. In 1975, due to the bloody governmental repression unleashed against activists from her organization, she exiled herself in Brazil. She returned clandestinely in 1977, and helped to found the Paraguayan Peasant Movement in 1980. Five years later, she created the Coordination of Peasant Women that, in 1999, led to the foundation of the National Coordination of the Organizations of Female Peasants and Indigenous Women. Maggiorina Balbuena says, “My immediate goal is to encourage concrete actions from the State that will help rural and indigenous women to improve their life conditions. When I see that women have the basic things they deserve as human beings, I will then feel that I have done something.”

National Coordination of Organizations of Female Peasants and Indigenous Women