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 July and August, respectively, the US State Department designated former president Horacio Cartes and current vice president Hugo Velázquez for “significant corruption.” Velázquez dropped out of the 2023 presidential race as a result, but remained in office.
- Primaries in December saw Santiago Peña, financed by Cartes, win the Colorado Party presidential nomination, while Cartes was elected party leader. Efraín Alegre was selected as the presidential nominee of the opposition Concertación coalition. General elections were scheduled for April 2023.
|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. The conservative Colorado Party has held the presidency for all but 5 of the past 75 years.
Mario Abdo Benítez of the Colorado Party won the presidency in the 2018 election. Efraín Alegre, then representing 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.
Party primaries in December 2022 proceeded normally, despite the destruction of some 7,700 electronic voting machines—roughly a third of the nation’s total—in a September fire at the national electoral agency. Santiago Peña, backed by former president Cartes, will lead the Colorado Party into the presidential election scheduled for April 2023. Alegre was selected by a wide margin to head the opposition, this time organized into a centrist coalition called the Concertación.
|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. In the 2018 legislative elections, the Colorado Party won a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, but no party won a Senate majority. Monitoring missions considered the polls to be competitive and credible.
Local elections in 2021 were deemed generally free and fair by international observers. However, observers registered concern over a spike in election-related violence during the run-up to the poll, resulting in at least five deaths.
|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 European Union (EU) election observation mission issued in 2013 and 2018, including securing the independence of the TSJE and making it easier for Indigenous peoples to vote.
The absence of a runoff mechanism in Paraguay’s presidential elections is rare for the region and tends to favor the Colorado Party over the fragmented opposition.
|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 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?||4.004 4.004|
Despite the dominance of the Colorado Party, opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections. Former president Fernando Lugo was able to come to power in 2008 due to a split in the ruling Colorado Party, while a liberal-left coalition came close to taking the presidency in 2018. The Concertación, a centrist coalition, hopes to secure victory in 2023. In addition, rival factions within the Colorado Party serve as a kind of internal opposition and have recently alternated in power.
However, the formidable Colorado party machinery stacks the cards in its own favor. Structural obstacles to independent trade unions and a judicial crackdown on peasant-farmer organizations also weaken the potential bases for a strong electoral opposition, while the lack of a runoff mechanism means the fractured opposition has to field a united slate.
|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 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 buy votes. In September 2022, a Colorado mayor was accused of retaining the ID cards of Indigenous voters in order to influence their ballots.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
Political office is overwhelmingly dominated by male and White or mestizo individuals. No Afro-Paraguayans or Indigenous people held legislative office in 2022. Women hold only 19 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?||2.002 4.004|
While elected officials determine government policy, decisions are often influenced or hampered by organized crime and corruption, and former president Cartes retains extensive influence over policy and ministerial appointments.
Lax rules surrounding campaign finance and weak judicial oversight make it more likely that some deputies, senators, and local officials owe their positions to the proceeds of corruption, smuggling, and drug-trafficking.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption and impunity are serious problems, and anticorruption laws have been poorly implemented. Cases 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.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw serious and credible allegations of corruption regarding the purchase of coronavirus-related supplies by the government, triggering the resignation of the health minister in 2021.
In September 2022, a legislative commission report detailed a smuggling network run by members of Paraguay’s customs service and navy; earlier in the year, several officers and commanders had been removed from their posts over involvement with smuggling.
In July 2022, the US State Department designated former president Cartes for involvement in “significant corruption” as well as links to “foreign terrorist organizations,” barring him from the United States. In August, the US likewise designated Vice President Hugo Velázquez and one of his close associates for involvement in “significant corruption.”
However, no corresponding investigation into Cartes or Velázquez was announced in Paraguay. Velázquez resigned as vice president in August, days after the US action, but then withdrew the resignation. However, he did drop out of the presidential race that month. Cartes’s preferred presidential candidate, Santiago Peña, won the December 2022 presidential primary vote to lead the Colorado ticket for the 2023 presidential election. Should Peña win, it is likely to further quash the ability of the compromised judiciary to investigate Cartes, whose outsized influence over Paraguay’s institutions and political life is becoming entrenched.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Government transparency is gradually improving, and the effective implementation of access to information laws has bolstered investigative journalism. Anticorruption demonstrations are becoming more common and have led to prosecutions. President Abdo Benítez has taken a somewhat firmer line against corruption, including against alleged malfeasance by Cartes, but has been politically sidelined as his wing of the Colorado Party lost the 2022 primary.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Constitutional freedoms of expression and the press are unevenly upheld. Ownership of Paraguay’s largest media outlets is concentrated in three powerful companies, whose interests frequently influence media content.
Direct pressure against journalists, including threats by criminal groups and corrupt authorities, encourages self-censorship. In September 2022, radio journalist Humberto Coronel was shot and killed in the border city of Pedro Juan Caballero amid a spike in drive-by shootings. He had received death threats from drug traffickers.
In November 2022, the editor of the newspaper ABC Color, Natalia Zuccolillo, and Juan Carlos Lezcano, one of its journalists, were convicted in a defamation lawsuit filed by former vice minister of taxation Marta González; the case concerned reporting on alleged irregular contracting by the ministry under González. The ruling, which the journalists appealed, resulted in fines of $68,000 for Zuccolillo and $840 for Lezcano.
|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 Roman Catholic Church has spread further into public and private life, sometimes to the detriment of individual rights.
|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 or the PLRA.
|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|
Protests are common but sometimes repressed. Periodic demonstrations took place throughout 2022. Campesino (peasant farmer) organizations demanded land rights and support amid drought and harsh economic conditions, while truckers staged roadblocks to protest high fuel prices.
In September 2022, officials of the municipality of Asunción, the capital, voted to begin work on fencing off multiple parks and squares, including the public area outside Congress. While billed as a temporary measure, the move is likely to restrict demonstrations, especially by Indigenous groups and peasant farmers. In late 2021, two major demonstrations regarding Indigenous land rights were held in Asunción.
|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 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field of human rights and governance. However, political access tends to be given to organizations representing industry, agribusiness, and religious groups.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
The right to unionize is constitutionally protected. However, only 7 percent of workers are unionized. 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 intermittent throughout 2022. Among other developments, transport workers went on strike several times demanding a reduction in fuel prices; they reached an agreement with the government in September. Also in September, motorbike and delivery-app workers demonstrated against high fuel prices. In October, the union of workers for the state National Electricity Administration (ANDE) went on strike in protest of the organization’s subcontracting practices.
|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 attorney general, Sandra Quiñónez, is widely believed to have blocked investigations of former president Cartes; attempts to remove her have been voted down by the Colorado Party in Congress.
|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.
|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) guerilla group is still active in the northeast.
Violence perpetrated by organized crime groups is spreading. In 2022, those shot dead included the mayor of the border town of Pedro Juan Caballero, in May; a local Pedro Juan Caballero journalist, in September; the former director of Paraguay’s largest prison in Asunción, in June; and a leading antimafia prosecutor, killed while on his honeymoon in Colombia, in May. Four gang members who admitted to participation in the prosecutor’s murder were each sentenced to 23-year prison terms in June; others were being held pending further investigations.
Overcrowding, long-term pretrial detention, and unsanitary conditions are serious problems in prisons. According to government figures, in 2020 the country had some 14,000 prisoners but capacity for just 9,500.
In September 2022, the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture reported that torture by prison guards was widespread and condoned by prison governors, including in Pedro Juan Caballero. A case of alleged torture by police in the city of Caaguazú came to light in March.
|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. LGBT+ people face endemic discrimination.
Indigenous people similarly face stigma and lack access to adequate health care. Rampant deforestation 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 foreign ranchers in the eastern region.
|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 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?||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 and Indigenous land, 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?||2.002 4.004|
Women and children continue to suffer from high levels of gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual abuse. Authorities recorded 35 femicides in 2021 and 40 in 2022. 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?||2.002 4.004|
According to government figures released in March 2022, 26.9 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2021, with 3.9 percent of people living in extreme poverty.
Indigenous populations are especially affected by poverty. 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