Paraguay: Carving a Path to the Future through the Trash


The people pushed out by soy typically come to one of Asuncion's three shanty towns where they hope to (eventually) find work.  One is behind Paraguay's legislative building and another is closer to the suburbs. The oldest one is Cateura, so named because it was built from the landfill of the same name that looms in the background. 

Everything in Cateura is built from trash--houses, wagons, even soccer fields.  The streets closer to the dump are actually carved from the garbage itself and some shacks seem to be just plopped in the middle piles of refuse that blow around like sand dunes.  During the daytime you can only find girls in the slum.  The men, women and boys are at the dump working.

The people in Cateura tell me they are lucky because they have steady income working as recyclers at the landfill. They are organized into several syndicates which operate like trade guilds where they set prices and establish turf. The only way I could gain access to Cateura is by being shepherded by one of the syndicates who insisted on telling me how bad the working conditions are. The syndicates sound rehearsed when they tell me about working in the sun without clean water, inadequate healthcare and very poor educational opportunities (the syndicates are funded by one of the many NGOs working in Asuncion).

But when talking to the people who actually sort the trash from the recyclables, you get the impression that they are really happy. Life at the dump is much better than life in the post-soy countryside. It's easier they say, more secure, and their children have opportunities they could never have in the filed.

Their happiness shows. The recyclers leap to their feet when the trucks or wagons come with garbage. They swarm them with smiles and eagerly gobble the trash into piles and wait for the landfill operators to come around and weigh their loot.