Paraguay’s democracy is dominated by the conservative Colorado Party. Corruption remains widespread, while organized crime, environmental destruction, and systemic discrimination damage the rights of rural and Indigenous populations. Poverty and gender-based discrimination also limit the rights of women and children.
- In March, allegations of corruption involving government mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the resignation of then health minister Julio Mazzoleni. The allegations, which triggered countrywide protests, prompted the opposition to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Mario Abdo Benítez; the impeachment attempt was blocked later that month by a congressional bloc aligned with former president Horacio Cartes.
- Due to the coronavirus pandemic, local elections originally scheduled for November 2020 took place in October; the elections, which saw the introduction of a ranked-choice voting system, were generally deemed free and fair by international observers. However, observers registered concern over a spike in election-related violence in the run-up to the polls, which resulted in the deaths of at least five people.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president is directly elected to no more than one five-year term. The conservative Colorado Party has held the presidency for most of the past 75 years. The most recent exception, left-wing former president Fernando Lugo, was removed from office in a legal, if highly controversial, “express impeachment” in 2012.
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, of the opposition Alianza Ganar coalition, took 43 percent. International observers 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?
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 considered the polls to be generally competitive and credible.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, local elections were delayed from November 2020 to October 2021, and party primaries, which were originally planned for July 2020, took place in June 2021. The local elections were deemed generally free and fair by international observers. However, observers registered concern over a spike in election-related violence in the run-up to the October polls, which resulted in the deaths of at least five people.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The Superior Electoral Court of Justice (TSJE) regulates electoral processes. The government has yet to implement most recommendations the European Union (EU) election observation mission issued in 2013 and 2018, including securing the independence of the TSJE, making vote recounts possible, and making it easier for Indigenous peoples to vote.
The October 2021 local elections were administered under electoral code reforms adopted in 2019, which introduced a new system of ranked-choice voting. Additionally, both the June 2021 party primaries and the October local elections featured the use of new electronic voting machines.
|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?
The Colorado Party has been in power for most of the past 75 years. The party dominates 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).
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
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 ruling 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?
Citizens are generally free from direct interference in their political choices. However, the ruling Colorado Party has been accused of using its extensive patronage network and access to public-sector jobs to recruit voters. In March 2021, a Colorado Party candidate for the Asunción city council was accused of handing out Health Ministry medication while campaigning. The party also faced public backlash in July amid claims that thousands of people had been added to the party’s public register without their consent; party officials claimed that the register had been hacked.
There is also some concern over the growing political influence of Brazilian landowners in eastern regions. The constitution bars military personnel from politics.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Political office is overwhelmingly dominated by male and White or mestizo individuals. No Afro-Paraguayans or Indigenous people held legislative office in 2021. Women hold only 21 out of 125 seats in Congress, and no regional governorships.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
While elected officials determine government policy, the making and implementation of decisions is often influenced or hampered by organized crime and corruption.
A major scandal in July 2019 stoked fears that a renegotiation of the dividends of the Itaipú dam—a publicly owned hydroelectric facility shared with Brazil—due by 2023 will be determined by private interests.
Former president Cartes retains considerable influence over government policy and personnel. At the height of the 2019 Itaipú scandal, only the private intervention of Cartes saved Abdo Benítez from impeachment. A congressional bloc aligned with Cartes again blocked efforts to impeach Abdo Benítez in March 2021, when the opposition voted to begin impeachment proceedings against the president over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October 2020, the lower house voted to suspend opposition deputy Celeste Amarilla of the PLRA for two months after she alleged that at least 60 of her 80 colleagues held their seats due to “dirty money.” Critics said her suspension, driven by the ruling Colorado Party, contravened the constitution and parliamentary privilege.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Corruption and impunity are serious problems, and anticorruption laws have been poorly implemented. Cases often languish for years in the courts. Anticorruption protests and citizen transparency initiatives have forced the prosecution of officials from several parties under Abdo Benítez, who has taken a somewhat firmer line against corruption than his predecessors.
During 2020 and 2021, serious and credible allegations of corruption were made regarding the purchase of coronavirus-related supplies by the government, including by the Ministry of Health and state-owned fuels firm Petropar. In March 2021, reports emerged that medications meant to supply public hospitals were being sold on the black market, exacerbating a serious drug shortage within the country. The scandal triggered a wave of antigovernment protests and the resignation of then health minister Julio Mazzoleni. Another coronavirus-related scandal unfolded in May, when it was reported that more than 500 politically connected people had used their influence to receive COVID-19 vaccinations before becoming eligible. A senator implicated in the scandal later resigned.
In August 2021, the US Treasury Department sanctioned three prominent businessmen based in Paraguay for their alleged role in an international money-laundering scheme, which, according to US officials, involved local politicians, police, and judges.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
Government transparency is gradually improving, and the effective implementation of access to information laws has bolstered investigative journalism. Anticorruption demonstrations are becoming more common.
However, transparency initiatives often go unenforced. For example, in late 2019, an online platform intended to track publicly purchased Health Ministry supplies and allow citizens to report drug shortages was shut down without explanation.
|Are there free and independent media?
Constitutional freedoms of expression and the press are unevenly upheld. Ownership of Paraguay’s largest media outlets is increasingly concentrated in three powerful companies, whose political and business interests frequently influence media content.
Direct pressure against journalists, including threats by criminal groups and corrupt authorities, encourages self-censorship. In February 2020, Brazilian journalist Lourenço “Léo” Veras was shot and killed in the border city of Pedro Juan Caballero. Veras had reported receiving death threats from narcotraffickers.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
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.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Although academia is generally independent, student elections and professional advancement often depend on affiliation with the Colorado Party or the PLRA.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
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?
Protests are common but sometimes repressed. Numerous largescale protests took place in 2021, including in September, when several thousand Indigenous demonstrators assembled in Asunción to protest a law that allows those convicted of “occupying” disputed land to be sentenced to up to ten years in prison. Violent clashes broke out between police and protesters when police attempted to forcibly disperse the protest. Another large land rights demonstration, which saw thousands of protesters demand that the government stop enforcing violent evictions of Indigenous communities, was held in December.
Protests over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic erupted across the country in early March; thousands of people participated in the antigovernment demonstrations, which were held daily through the end of the month. Though the protests were largely peaceful, riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse the demonstrations, leading to violent confrontations between protesters and security forces.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Paraguay has a strong culture of largely free nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field of human rights and governance. However, political access tends to be given to organizations made up of senior business figures or religious groups.
In March 2021, a local NGO, the Center for Analysis and Dissemination of the Paraguayan Economy (CADEP), and the University of Illinois Chicago published a report alleging that for over 20 years, Paraguay’s tobacco industry has engaged in pervasive tax evasion and tobacco smuggling schemes. The following month, the Paraguayan Tobacco Union—which is affiliated with former president and tobacco magnate Horacio Cartes—filed a lawsuit against CADEP, accusing the organization of using “erroneous data” in its report. A judge also ordered CADEP to submit all research materials used in the report to the court. The lawsuit has been widely condemned as politically motivated.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
The right to unionize is constitutionally protected. However, registration procedures for trade unions are cumbersome, and only 7 percent of workers are unionized. Union membership is skewed toward public sector employees: as of 2019, 28 percent of state employees belonged to a union, compared to just 0.6 percent of private sector workers.
Labor activism was nevertheless robust in 2021, with a number of teachers’ unions declaring a strike in October to demand that the government comply with a 2018 law that guaranteed a 16 percent increase in teachers’ salaries. The National Union of Physicians (SINAMED) also engaged in industrial action, and went on strike in September, calling on the government to increase both the health budget and physician salaries.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The judiciary is nominally independent, but money launderers, drug traffickers, and corrupt politicians have co-opted local judicial authorities. Public prosecutors show increasing signs of co-optation by the ruling Colorado Party.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
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 policemen and 11 peasant farmers 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?
Paraguay is one of the region’s safer countries. However, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) guerilla group is still active in the northeast. A September 2020 raid on an EPP camp that resulted in the killings of two 11-year-old Argentine girls generated sharp criticism.
Violence between organized crime groups predominantly takes place along the Brazilian border, but is spreading. Illegal detention and torture by police and security forces still occur. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions are serious problems in prisons.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Paraguay lacks legislation protecting against all forms of discrimination. While same-sex sexual activity is legal, members of the LGBT+ community face endemic discrimination.
Indigenous people similarly face discrimination and lack access to adequate health care. Rampant deforestation, man-made forest fires, severe droughts, and forced evictions threaten the last Indigenous Ayoreo groups in voluntary isolation and Indigenous Guaraní settlements.
Mennonite communities in the Chaco are afforded a wide degree of legal forbearance, as are Brazilian and European-descended ranchers in the eastern region.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
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 grades.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Although there are few formal restrictions on private business activity and property rights, land disputes, often linked to historic misappropriation of public land and disrespect of Indigenous land rights, remain a problem. In October 2021, the UN Human Rights Committee (OHCHR) ruled that in failing to prevent the “toxic contamination of Indigenous people’s traditional lands,” the government had violated their rights; among other things, the committee recommended that the government “make full reparation to the victims.”
The EPP has threatened, kidnapped, and extorted ranchers in northeastern areas.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Women and children continue to suffer from high levels of gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual abuse. Authorities recorded 35 femicides in 2021. Abortion, same-sex marriage, and civil unions remain illegal. LGBT+ people, and especially transgender women, report feeling increasingly unsafe amid the country’s conservative shift.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Approximately 26.9 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2020, with 3.9 percent living in extreme poverty. Some estimates suggest the country’s poverty rate reached 30 percent in 2021. Indigenous populations are particularly affected. Inequality in income and land ownership is extremely high and social mobility very limited. Employees are often unprotected from employer retaliation. Reports of forced labor and slavery periodically surface.
The ongoing illegal practice of criadazgo—temporary adoption whereby children, generally from poor families, work without pay for wealthier ones—severely limits the freedom of some 47,000 children across the country.
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Global Freedom Score65 100 partly free