Paraguay’s democracy is dominated by the conservative Colorado Party. Corruption is decreasing but remains widespread, while organized crime, environmental destruction, and systemic discrimination damage the rights of indigenous populations. Poverty and gender-based discrimination also limit the rights of women and children.
- Between August and October, 13 officials, including the foreign minister, the justice minister, and the interior minister, were removed by President Mario Abdo Benítez or resigned amid various political and corruption scandals. These personnel changes attested to the public’s general priority to fight corruption and raise concerns about a lack of transparency and meritocracy in key appointments.
- In March, the senate declared itself “pro-life and pro-family,” withdrawing materials related to sex education from the school system and reflecting the growing influence conservative religious groups have over public life in the nominally secular nation.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is directly elected to no more than one five-year term, although efforts to instate presidential reelection, including an unconstitutional attempt by former president Horacio Cartes, periodically surface. The Colorado Party has held the presidency for most of the past 70 years. Left-wing former president Fernando Lugo (2008–12) was removed from office in a legal, if highly controversial, “express impeachment.”
Mario Abdo Benítez of the Colorado Party won the presidency in the 2018 election, taking a little over 46 percent of the vote. Efraín Alegre, the candidate of the opposition Alianza Ganar coalition, took 43 percent. Observers including the European Union (EU) described the election as largely fair, although allegations were made of fraud, vote-buying, and a media blackout affecting other candidates.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The bicameral congress consists of an 80-member Chamber of Deputies and a 45-member Senate, with all members elected for five-year terms. The 2018 legislative elections resulted in a majority for the Colorado Party in the Chamber of Deputies, but no party won a majority in the Senate. Monitoring missions reported some irregularities but considered the parliamentary polls to be generally competitive and credible.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The Superior Electoral Court of Justice (TSJE) regulates electoral processes. The government has yet to implement most recommendations the EU election observation mission issued in 2013 and 2018, including initiatives to improve the independence of the TSJE to allow for a thorough review of campaign financing, as well as to implement a mechanism for vote recounts, which are currently not possible. The 2018 EU monitoring mission also noted local authorities’ consistent failure to enforce decisions made by the TSJE. The Abdo Benítez administration has yet to propose a constitutional reform process, promised by Abdo Benítez at the end of 2018, so as to address some of these issues.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
The Colorado Party has been in power for most of the past 70 years. They dominate the national political scene with the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA), though both contain rival internal factions.
Several smaller parties emerged or increased their standing in the 2018 elections, including Patria Querida (PPQ), Hagamos (PPH), and Movimiento Cruzada Nacional (MCN), suggesting the grip of the two traditional parties is weakening somewhat.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Despite the dominance of the Colorado Party, opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections. Former president Lugo was able to come to power in 2008 due to a split in the Colorado Party, while a liberal-left coalition, Alianza Ganar, came close to taking the presidency in 2018. In addition, rival factions within the Colorado Party serve as a kind of internal opposition and have recently alternated in power.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens are generally free from undue interference in their political choices. However, there is some concern over the growing political influence of Brazilian landowners in eastern regions.
Media outlets are concentrated among a handful of families, including that of former president Cartes, granting these few owners a powerful political platform. The constitution bars military personnel from politics.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
No Afro-Paraguayans or indigenous people held legislative office in 2019, although an indigenous political movement has gained strength. Women held only 21 out of 125 seats in congress in 2019, and no regional governorships. A gender quota law mandating that party lists be 50 percent women for all positions has stalled in congress.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
While elected officials determine government policy, the making and implementation of decisions is often influenced or hampered by organized crime and corruption.
In 2018, Cartes attempted to extend his political influence beyond his presidential term but was thwarted by the Senate. The Supreme Court early in the year controversially ruled that Cartes could run for a Senate seat with full voting rights. Critics said that this contravened the constitution, which states that former presidents become senators for life, but lack voting rights and may only contribute to debates. Cartes won a Senate seat in the April elections, but the Senate in June blocked his move to step down from the presidency early to take his seat; this precluded him from being sworn in, as the Constitution does not permit the president to simultaneously serve as a senator. Cartes then reluctantly withdrew his resignation.
A major scandal emerged in July 2019 after evidence emerged that a lawyer claiming to represent the vice-president had been privately negotiating with Brazilian officials over energy prices connected to the Itaipú dam. This stoked fears that a major renegotiation of the dam’s dividends due by 2023 will not be determined by elected officials but by private interests.
At the height of the scandal, a Colorado faction in congress loyal to Cartes threw its weight behind efforts to impeach Abdo Benítez in August, only to demur after backroom negotiations. Soon afterwards, the president appointed a close Cartes ally to head the important agriculture ministry, despite criticisms of his alleged lack of qualifications. The episode suggested that the former president still has considerable influence over government policy and personnel.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption is a serious problem, and anticorruption laws have been poorly implemented. Cases often languish for years in the courts without resolution, and many offenses go unpunished due to political influence in the judiciary.
Mass anticorruption demonstrations erupted in mid-2018, and a number of officials from all parties and factions, resigned, were investigated, and then prosecuted in their wake.
The Abdo Benítez government has taken a somewhat firmer line against corruption than his predecessors. Amid a scandal over the Itaipú dam in August 2019, the president removed multiple officials, including the foreign minister, the ambassador to Brazil, the Paraguayan director of Itaipú, and the director of the Secretariat for the Prevention of Money or Assets Laundering (SEPRELAD). In October, following allegations of misuse of funds regarding police spending, the president replaced the interior minister.
The left-leaning mayor of Asunción and a former presidential candidate, Mario Ferreiro, resigned in December amid allegations of corruption by close associates.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Government transparency, especially in public administration, is gradually improving, and the effective implementation of access to information laws has bolstered investigative journalism. Citizens show increasing intolerance for corruption and opaque government, something reflected in demonstrations concerning the Itaipú dam in 2019, against corruption in 2018, and against the secretive unconstitutional attempts to allow for presidential re-election in 2017.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Constitutional freedoms of expression and the press are unevenly upheld. Direct pressure against journalists, including threats by criminal groups and corrupt authorities, encourages self-censorship, and violent attacks against journalists take place occasionally.
In July 2019, two journalists were injured by rubber bullets fired by police while covering a protest in Asunción, prompting condemnation by press freedom groups.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Diverse religious groups generally worship freely. However, the cultural dominance of the Catholic Church has spread further into public and private life, sometimes to the detriment of individual rights. Religious groups unaffiliated with the Catholic Church claim the government disproportionately subsidizes Catholic schools. There have also been concerns from human rights groups that indigenous holidays are not respected by employers of other religious backgrounds.
In March, the Senate declared itself “pro-life and pro-family” and opened its session with a prayer.
The Catholic Christian Apostolic National Church of Paraguay (ICCAN), which claims to have more than 100,000 members, accused the Vice Ministry of Worship (VMW) of rejecting two requests to register as a religious entity.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Although academia is generally independent, student elections and professional advancement often depend on affiliation with the Colorado Party and the PLRA.
In March 2019, academic groups expressed concern after a crowd threw projectiles at and lit fires outside the home of historian Milda Rivarola in the rural town of Quyquyhó over her opposition to urban redevelopment plans.
In February, it emerged that a religious nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Decisiones had been awarded $308,000 in state funding over seven years for delivering classes discouraging the use of condoms and promoting “gay conversion therapy” in public schools, in which religious instruction is legally prohibited.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens can, for the most part, engage in free and open private discussion, though the presence of armed groups in some areas can serve as a deterrent.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Demonstrations and protests are common but sometimes repressed. Periodic anticorruption protests in 2019 proceeded without interference, notably over the July and August scandal involving the Itaipú dam. The protests prompted the resignation and dismissal of several top officials.
In October 2019, an LGBT+ pride march was attacked by religious demonstrators in the southeastern city of Hernandarias.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Paraguay has a strong culture of largely free NGOs working in the field of human rights and governance. However, the government is generally unresponsive to NGO scrutiny. NGOs struggle to afford advertising space, and political access tends to be given to organizations made up of senior business figures or religious groups, while human rights groups are increasingly dismissed as reflecting an international liberal agenda.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Registration procedures for trade unions are cumbersome and employees are often unprotected from employer retaliation. However, labor activism was nevertheless robust in 2019, with taxi drivers protesting in July to demand more regulations governing ride-sharing services.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The judiciary is nominally independent, but money launderers, drug traffickers, and corrupt politicians have co-opted local judicial authorities. The replacement of Justice Minister Juan Ernesto Villamayor following a spending scandal with a respected jurist, Euclides Acevedo, in October, was generally viewed positively.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of due process are poorly upheld, largely due to corruption that permeates the judicial system. Individuals with influence or access to money are frequently able to obtain favorable treatment in the justice system. Cases like the 2012 killings of 6 policeman and 11 peasant farmers, campesinos, in Curuguaty are yet to be investigated fully and fairly.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Paraguay is one of the region’s safer countries. However, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a guerilla group, is still active in the northeast. Gang warfare predominantly takes place along the Brazilian border but is spreading. Illegal detention and torture by police still occur. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions are serious problems in prisons.
The Abdo Benítez administration took steps to rein in the Grupo Lince, a rapid-reaction police force created in 2017 to tackle urban crime, but which has been criticized for heavy-handed arrests and inspections. For example, the administration drastically cut the group’s funding, and mandated that agents wear identifying badges and keep their faces visible. The efforts were unpopular with much of the public, and reduced activity by the group was widely blamed as the cause of an apparent uptick in violent crime. In September 2018, authorities announced the restoration of the group’s funding.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Paraguay lacks legislation protecting against all forms of discrimination. While same-sex sexual activity is legal, members of the LGBT+ community face endemic discrimination. In March 2019, the government withdrew educational materials relating to sex education, and the Senate declared itself to be “pro-life and pro-family.” In August, a court heard a murder case whose victim was a transgender woman for the first time; more than 60 transgender people have been murdered since 1989 without any resulting trial.
Indigenous people similarly face discrimination and lack access to adequate health care. Rampant deforestation, man-made forest fires, and forced evictions threaten the last indigenous Ayoreo groups in voluntary isolation and indigenous Guaraní settlements.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of movement is generally respected, though the presence of armed or criminal groups can discourage travel in some areas. Most people can change their employment without legal impediment. For students, moving between educational establishments can prove difficult as faculty often have the power to retain individual academic information needed to go elsewhere.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
Although there are few formal restrictions on private business activity and property rights, land disputes, often linked to historic misappropriation of public land and respect of indigenous land rights, remain a problem.
The EPP has threatened, kidnapped, and extorted ranchers in areas where it maintains a presence.
In July 2019, Amnesty International continued to warn of threats of renewed violent eviction against campesino and indigenous communities. A six-month long protest ended in Asunción in April 2019, where the indigenous members of the Tacuara’i community of the Ava Guaraní Chiripá people had camped after being violently evicted from one of their last remaining ancestral territories in the east of the country.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Women and children continue to suffer from high levels of gender-based violence and sexual abuse. Abortion remains illegal, as do same-sex marriage and civil unions. Leaders of the LGBT+ community have stated that LGBT+ people feel increasingly isolated amidst the country’s conservative shift.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Some 24 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2018, with 4.8 percent living in extreme poverty. Both figures have fallen slightly in recent years. Indigenous populations are particularly affected. Inequality in land ownership and income is extremely high and social mobility very limited. Reports of forced labor and slavery periodically surface.
The ongoing illegal practice of criadazgo, the temporary adoption in which children, generally from poor families, work without pay for wealthier ones, severely limits the freedom of roughly 47,000 children across the country.
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Global Freedom Score65 100 partly free