Protesters nail themselves to crosses in Paraguay over pay

In Paraguay, a wage protest has taken a grisly form: crucifixion.

Five former employees of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant nailed themselves to crosses for several weeks in front of the Brazilian embassy in Asunción to demand that they be given the money and benefits they claim are owed to them for the work they did on the dam many years ago.

According to Crux, the protesters, four men and one woman, resolve to stay crucified until their meeting with the Work Ministry pushes through on January 26.

Roque Samudio, 58, Gerardo Orue, 49, and Roberto Gonzalez, 61, started the protest on December 8. They were later joined by Pablo Garcete, 71, and Rosa Caceres, 52, whose former husband worked on the Itaipu dam.

The five stay crucified on large wooden crosses laid flat on the ground each day without taking anything but juice, water, or milk. Supporters tend to them, massaging their limbs to keep their blood flowing and helping them when they need to relieve themselves.

They endure the sun and rain and come off the crosses only at nightfall to sleep.

"What hurts the most is spending Christmas here, without seeing family, it's sad to hear carols on the radio," said one of the protesters, Caceres, who is a mother of nine.

"The men were here a week and it didn't change anything, I came to soften the heart of the hard-hearted. We crucified ourselves because God crucified himself to save everyone," she added.

The group, which said Itaipu owes some 9,000 workers $40,000, finally received a response from the government on January 6.

According to Work Minister Guillermo Sosa, the government and representatives from the Itaipu company has agreed to discuss their complaints.

In the meantime, Itaipu maintains that the protesters ought to demand the backpay - which amounts to several thousand dollars - not from them but from the construction companies the former workers had a labour agreement with.

The number of crucifixion protests, though condemned by the Catholic Church's Paraguayan Episcopal Conference as having "questionable ethical and religious dimensions," is increasing in Paraguay.

In the face of the growing trend, the Church has told the largely Catholic populace, "Life is a gift from God. It must be cared for and respected as something sacred."