Paraguay | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2005

2005 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


After 35 years as dictator, General Alfredo Stroessner was overthrown in February 1989 in a putsch led by his erstwhile military ally, General Andres Rodriguez. Keen to attract national and international support, Rodriguez ushered in a democratic opening in Paraguay. In May of that year, Rodriguez and the same Colorado Party that had been the political backbone of the Stroessner regime emphatically won presidential and legislative elections. The ensuing democratic transition has been limited, elite led, and ongoing, with the Colorado Party successfully retaining power through four consecutive presidential elections. However, despite such apparent party hegemony, the transition to democracy has not been smooth, and attempted military coups in 1996, 1999, and 2000 have underlined the precarious nature of the democratic process.

The constitution of 1992 represented a high point of progressive reform in the Paraguayan transition. It is thorough, inclusive, and progressive, seeking to guarantee basic freedoms to all Paraguayans. This framework has been built upon by various codes and laws that further seek to enshrine rights and freedoms. Recent examples are the establishment of a Human Rights Ombudsman in 2001 and a Truth and Reconciliation Committee in 2003, as well as the very real legal gains in women's rights over the past decade. However, there is a gulf between democratic legal and constitutional frameworks and the reality of Paraguay, in which corruption thrives and many basic freedoms are violated with impunity. This can be attributed not only to the legacies of the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner (1954 - 89), but also to a series of governments during the democratic transition that have been characterized by inefficiency, economic mismanagement, and rampant corruption.

Among the most significant limits to freedom in Paraguay are the high levels of poverty and inequality, which adversely affect the exercise of civil and political rights and individual freedoms. Paraguay is among the most unequal countries in the world (with a Gini index rating of 57.7), as well as among the poorest.[1] The prolonged recession and stagnation since 1996 have resulted in a decline in per capita income by over a third in the past 10 years to just $1,019 in 2003. Meanwhile, according to the government's own figures, the portion of the population living below the poverty level has increased steadily from 32 percent in 1995 to 48.8 percent in 2003, of whom 24.7 percent live in absolute poverty.[2] These figures are exacerbated by rising unemployment, underemployment, and the growth of a vast informal economy in a country in which between 60 percent and 70 percent of workers earn less than the established minimum wage (approximately $160 per month).[3] Combined with widespread corruption and illicit enrichment - principally in the form of contraband - these factors have led to a growing disillusionment with the limited progress of the political transition, reflected in a level of commitment to democracy that is almost the lowest in the region.[4]

However, since he assumed power in August 2003, President Nicanor Duarte Frutos has focused on attacking corruption and improving the quality of public management, correctly identifying these as the key governance issues. He has introduced major progressive tax reforms, cut tax evasion, and reduced corruption in customs and the Ministry of Finance, while also improving macroeconomic performance and clearing arrears with international creditors, thus preventing a widely forecast economic collapse. Nevertheless, while such progress has been highly encouraging, it must be recognised that Duarte is the first president since the transition to democracy began who has dared to even begin to tackle such issues in a serious manner and against such powerful vested interests.

Accountability and Public Voice: 

The 1992 constitution provides citizens with the right to elect a government through regular, free, and fair elections held every five years, on the basis of universal suffrage for adults over 18 years of age. The ballot is secret, and independent authorities, as well as national and international observers, monitor elections. In principle there is the opportunity for effective rotation of power among different political parties, although in practice the Colorado Party has won all four presidential elections since 1989 and has held power since 1947. It maintains tight control of government and the state, and participation in power-sharing by the opposition has been limited to two brief and unsuccessful periods (1995 and 1999 - 2002) when members of the opposition party were offered cabinet posts in Colorado governments. The Colorado Party did narrowly lose an extraordinary vice-presidential election in 2000, called after the collapse of the previous administration, to the opposition Partido Liberal Radical Autentico (PLRA). However, the incoming PLRA vice president, Julio Cesar Franco, made little impact and resigned in 2002.

The presidential elections of 2003, considered broadly free and fair by a range of international observers, were won by Nicanor Duarte Frutos of the Colorado Party. However, although the Colorado Party won the most seats in the Congress (37 out of 80 seats) and Senate (16 out of 45 seats), it failed to secure an absolute majority in either. Five other parties won seats in the Senate and four in Congress, representing a reasonably wide political spectrum.

The constitution provides for separation of powers guaranteeing the independence of the executive, legislature, and judiciary, as well as a system of checks and balances enabling them to oversee the actions of one another and prevent excessive exercise of power. However, in practice, the system of checks and balances has proven inadequate, failing to ensure public accountability of the executive and the legislature. The independence of the judiciary has been compromised, due both to the legacy of political intervention under the Stroessner dictatorship and to a political power-sharing arrangement reached by the major parties in 1995 (see "Rule of Law"). Concerns have been expressed over President Duarte's public statements regarding the need to reform the 1992 constitution with the aim of strengthening the executive, further reforming the judiciary, and reforming the electoral law - including to allow for consecutive re-election of the president. While the necessity for some reform is widely recognized, there is fear that if not handled appropriately, such changes could alter the power balance between executive, legislature, and judiciary in favor of the first.

Legislation on party campaign financing does not ensure fairness. Limited state funding for party campaigns is based on the number of votes received by each party in the previous election. The bulk of party finances is therefore private. Parties are prohibited from receiving donations from public bodies, international organizations, or state employees, and they cannot use state resources for party campaigns. However, they are not required to reveal their sources of funding, and few effective checks and balances are in place. As a result, misuse of public funds and state resources for electoral campaigns is common among all parties, especially the ruling Colorado Party. Such lack of controls also enhances the propensity toward clientelism and undue influence wielded by economically privileged interests in politics. Private wealth and financial contributions have become major criteria in the allocation of positions on party electoral lists and to public office.[5] As a result, several groups, including Transparency International, have successfully pressed the government to look into reform of financing of political parties, although to date no concrete progress has been made.

While civil servants are officially selected on the basis of merit and are expected to serve the public rather than any partisan political interest, in practice, personal and especially political ties remain important factors in civil service appointments. Moreover, the civil service as a whole remains highly politicized: Closely tied to the ruling Colorado Party, it is a bastion of its electoral support.[6]

Civil society was severely repressed and controlled under the 35-year dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner. However, the past 15 years have seen dramatic growth in Paraguay's civic sector, which is increasingly active and independent. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are able to operate without government interference, free from legal impediments, state pressures, or onerous registration requirements. The government allows them to receive funding freely from the international donor community and to participate in international forums. The NGO community has taken an active role in promoting policy reform on a broad range of issues including human rights, government transparency and accountability, citizens' (including women's and indigenous peoples') rights, compulsory military service, and protection of the environment.[7]

The government widely upholds freedom of the press, although there have been a number of cases of intimidation of journalists, threats and attacks by non-state actors. Problems occur especially at moments of political crisis, such as at the time of the attempted coup d'etat of 1999, and surrounding investigations into corruption and smuggling, which often result in physical assault, threats, and harassment.[8]

Broad protection of freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 26 of the constitution. Furthermore, Paraguay is one of the few Latin American countries that do not have desacato laws, which criminalize offensive expression directed at public officials. However, freedom is limited by the constitutional requirements that information must be "accurate, responsible and even-handed" (Article 28) and that expression does not "exceed the bounds of acceptable criticism" (Article 151), the wording of which in practice has led to a degree of self-censorship in the press.

The media are independently owned and both freely criticize the government and discuss opposition viewpoints. The Paraguayan Union of Journalists (SPP) complains that private ownership of the media is highly politicized and that journalists who do not conform to the political views of their proprietors are often censored by their employers. Indeed, newspapers in particular are often used to defend personal, political, and economic interests rather than promote objective reporting, while free press is limited by indirect measures of non-state censorship, harassment, and the threat or use of legal action against journalists.[9]

Community radio is thriving and free. However, there have been frequent complaints that there is little transparency in the granting of licenses, which is often based on political and economic criteria rather than on the merits of individual local projects or in response to the needs of local communities. This has forced many community radio stations to operate illegally. As a result, in July 2004, the National Communications Commission (CONATEL), which regulates air frequencies, pledged to grant special licenses to more than 100 such stations. In addition, CONATEL has also requested the cooperation of UNESCO to make the current broadcasting legislation more democratic, effective, and transparent.

Civil Liberties: 

Article 12 of the constitution guarantees the right to individual liberty and, in conjunction with Article 239 of the penal code, restricts occasions on which a person may be detained. In practice, laws are frequently disregarded. Arbitrary arrest and detention are persistent problems, people are detained without a judicial order or other requirements established in the law, and they are often held in detention for excessive periods of time.[10] The use of torture is prohibited under the constitution and the penal code, although the classification omits certain elements of the UN Convention on Torture and is not fully in line with UN definitions and procedures. In practice torture remains a recurrent problem in prisons and in police stations, employed with the aim of extracting information or simply for intimidation or punishment. In 2003 the Office of the State Prosecutor received 43 accusations of torture and use of excessive force by the security forces, but it is believed that most cases are simply not reported.[11] The issue is generally downplayed by the authorities and is exacerbated by internal problems in the security forces, including an authoritarian cultural legacy dating back to the dictatorship, a lack of appropriate training, and widespread impunity.

According to the World Prison Brief, in 1999, 92.7 percent of prisoners had not been convicted of any crime.[12] This reflects a deep-rooted problem of excessively long preventive detention, with some prisoners serving years without trial. However, since the introduction of a new penal code in 2000, progress has been made; the backlog has been reduced and trials speeded up, resulting in a drop of 75 percent in average trial duration.[13]

A further problem is poor and deficient prison conditions, including overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and insufficient medical facilities, with the poorest sectors suffering the worst conditions of overcrowding and lack of basic necessities. Tacumbu, the largest prison in Asuncion, was built for 800 prisoners but in 2003 held as many as 2,470, while other prisons also hold up to three times the appropriate number of inmates. On a national level, 5,063 inmates are held (of which 33 percent have been convicted) in a system with a capacity of 2,836.[14]

The legal basis for the protection of the individual against infringements by the state is in place but is not always adequate. For example, in 2003 and 2004 there were no politically motivated killings by the state, but two peasants were killed by police in January 2004 through use of excessive force, bringing the overall number of peasant activists killed by state forces or paramilitary groups since 1989 to 81.[15] According to major peasant organizations, peasant demonstrations and land occupations resulting from the recent growth of land disputes continue to elicit excessive force from the police and security staff, while reports indicate that landowners are increasingly using privately organized paramilitary forces against landless peasants, with the acquiescence of the government forces.[16]

Accusations continue of enforced conscription for military service, especially in rural areas. However, since 1993 approximately 120,000 conscripts have been recognized as conscientious objectors, and a strong campaign continues with the aim of abolishing compulsory military service.[17] Although mistreatment of military conscripts has been reduced through regular inspections of barracks and steps to eliminate recruitment of minors, reports continue, and no progress has been made in investigations into the deaths of more than 94 young conscripts since 1989.[18]

In November 2001, a human rights ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo), was created to promote the defense of human rights as well as to investigate human rights abuses under the Stroessner dictatorship. However, although a few cases did result in prosecutions and compensation to victims, the ombudsman has been was criticized for slow progress in investigations, for a lack of political will in promoting human rights, and for being appointed as part of a political compromise (the ombudsman is from the Colorado Party, while the vice-ombudsman is from the opposition PLRA). In a major advance in September 2003, the Congress passed legislation to create a Truth and Justice Commission to investigate abuses committed under the dictatorship and hence replace the work of the ombudsman in this field. The commission is currently investigating more than 330 lawsuits. It has its own state-allocated budget and contains members of civil society and government, including victims of human rights abuses.[19] It is widely seen as having the political will to make progress where the ombudsman failed.

There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government, and participation in elections is only marginally lower among women. However, women remain under-represented in politics, with little access to political or judicial decision-making circles. The results of the 2003 elections produced just 5 female senators out of 45, 8 female national deputies out of 80, and one female departmental governor (the first to attain such a position). In the new cabinet 4 out of 17 members are women, including the minister for foreign affairs. Although the electoral code requires that 20 percent of party candidates must be female, the results of the 2003 elections reflect the common practice of placing male candidates higher up the party electoral lists, thus giving them precedence under the system of proportional representation. A bill to increase the quota of women to 50 percent, including measures to ensure greater presence of women in the upper levels of party lists, is currently before Congress.

The constitution recognizes full equality of women and men and includes measures to promote policies to prevent domestic violence and ensure equality in the workplace. In recent years the state has adopted major legal reforms to protect women's rights and eliminate discrimination, including the penal code (2000), which characterizes domestic violence as a criminal offense; the labor code; and the electoral and civil codes, all of which include clauses to further gender equality. A Secretariat for Women's Affairs (1993), the Plan for Equal Opportunity for Women (1997 - 2001), and the National Plan of Equality of Opportunity (2003 - 07) have also helped achieve significant legal advances to ensure greater gender equality and fuller enjoyment of civil and political rights, as well as to reduce discrimination.

However, although much progress has been made in creating a more favorable legal framework, in practice some major legal discrepancies still exist and discrimination is widespread. For example, women receive lower pay, poorer training opportunities, and fewer chances for promotion in the workplace. This is especially the case in the unregulated informal sector, which accounts for over 40 percent of the workforce. Within this, domestic service, in which approximately 25 percent of the female workforce is employed, has minimal standards for pay and conditions.[20] In addition, domestic violence is widespread and often unreported. According to a survey in 2003, 49 percent of interviewees were aware of cases of domestic violence in their own homes and 30 percent admitted to being victims.[21] Under law, however, domestic violence must be habitual before being recognized as a crime and is then only punishable by a fine.

The constitution specifically prohibits trafficking in people, and in 1995 Congress established a temporary moratorium on international adoptions in an attempt to stamp out the growing illegal baby trade. However, trafficking for sexual exploitation remains a problem and is becoming more visible. In 2003 two cases of international trafficking for prostitution in Spain were uncovered, involving 10 and 18 Paraguayan women respectively.[22] To date, however, there have been no prosecutions against traffickers.

The constitution mandates that the state provide people with disabilities with health care, education, and professional training. However, there is no appropriate legislation to establish such programs, and in practice people with disabilities are not sufficiently provided for in these areas. Many people with disabilities face significant discrimination in terms of public attitudes, access to the labor market, public transport, and inaccessibility of public and private buildings.[23]

The 17 indigenous ethnic groups in Paraguay represent approximately 1.5 percent of the population and remain the poorest and most marginalized sector, largely unassimilated and neglected by the state. Despite cultural recognition and a favorable legal and constitutional framework, the protections contained therein are routinely circumvented or ignored. Indigenous people are largely excluded from political and economic participation due to a lack of adequate access to land and resources and social services such as education and health care. Although they are entitled to vote, and their participation has increased over the past decade, no indigenous people have been elected to either Congress or the Senate, and indigenous people are not represented in public office. Indigenous people suffer from routine violation of basic labor rights and protection in the workplace, especially in terms of extremely low or nonexistent pay and unacceptable working conditions.[24] Deep-rooted and institutionalized discrimination is reflected in economic, social, and cultural marginalization. For example, illiteracy rates are approximately 64 percent for indigenous people compared with 6 percent for the population as a whole[25]; approximately 95 percent of the indigenous population lives under the poverty line.[26]

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, which is respected in practice. The rights of atheists and minority faiths are protected, and the state ensures free practice of religion, with no undue state interference or restrictions. The Catholic Church freely criticizes the government, especially over issues of poverty, corruption, and inequality. Conscientious objection is recognized under the constitution, although there is no legal framework for treatment of those claiming such status.

The constitution protects freedom of association, including the right to form and join trade unions in both the public and private sector (with the exception of the armed forces and the police). Citizens exercise this right in practice. No citizens are compelled to belong to an association, although the public sector in general retains strong links with the ruling Colorado Party, and there have been repeated complaints of undue exercise of political power during elections. Freedom to demonstrate is observed by the government, although some groups have criticized limitations on the timing of demonstrations and access to parts of the capital, Asuncion. The government has also frequently been criticized for permitting excessive use of force by the police and army in response to demonstrations, especially when they involve peasants.

Although the process for registering unions is highly bureaucratic, nearly all unions do eventually receive recognition. However, union activity remains highly unprotected by the state, and harassment of union organizers occurs in the private sector, mainly through the firing of recognized union activists in violation of the labor code. Indeed, from 1989 to 2003 more than 1,965 workers were sacked for involvement in union activity.[27] Fear of reprisal, together with factors such as economic decline, rising unemployment, the growth of the informal sector, and internal crises within the different union federations has resulted in a situation in which unionism is weak and in decline, with only 6.4 percent of workers unionized compared to 13 percent in 1992.[28]

Rule of Law: 

According to the constitution, separation of powers, as well as a system of checks and balances, guarantee the independence of the executive, legislature, and judiciary. Members of the Supreme Court of Justice are to be selected through due process (by the Council of the Judiciary and the Senate) on the basis of merit. In practice, however, selection of officials in the judiciary is highly political. Since a political agreement between the major parties in 1995, Supreme Court judges and members of the Council of the Judiciary have been negotiated by different parties in accordance with the number of seats held in Congress, on grounds of political allegiance rather than merit. This in turn can have a ripple effect throughout the judiciary, as the Supreme Court is central in confirming and dismissing lower court judges, and well as overseeing judicial decisions. Thus, appointments lower down the judiciary are likewise based on political allegiance over merit.[29] Furthermore, both the legislature and the executive frequently criticize judicial decisions to the press, adding to the factors that compromise the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

In October 2003, President Duarte launched a popular campaign to clean up (or "pulverize" in his words) the Supreme Court, which was widely associated with institutional corruption.[30] With support from Congress, he forced first impeachment proceedings and then the removal of 6 out of the 9 members of the Supreme Court on the grounds of corruption. The major political parties subsequently negotiated choice of the new members of the Supreme Court on political grounds, a process that was widely criticized by civic organizations for compromising the independence of the judiciary. Corruption in the Supreme Court may have been reduced, but the lack of independence and high level of political interference have been reinforced.

Although reform has been ongoing, the judiciary is widely seen as inefficient, corrupt, underfunded, and unable to combat corruption and impunity or protect citizens' rights. Local judges and prosecutors often lack adequate training and are subject to undue pressures from local economic and political elites. Despite a project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) under the auspices of the UNDP to improve the efficiency, transparency, capacity, and technology of the judicial system in 1999, the system is overloaded and subject to long delays. One result of this is long-running cases, which until May 2004 were dropped after the three-year period stipulated by the statute of limitations, leading to accusations of impunity. Such was the case in October 2003 when charges against 68 members of the armed forces accused of involvement in the March 1999 killings of at least seven students were dropped after the time period stipulated for their trial expired.[31] In May 2004 the statute of limitations was extended to four years. No limitations, however, are applicable to cases of abuses committed under the dictatorship, which have an exceptional status guaranteed under the constitution.

The law grants access to independent counsel but in practice the government lacks resources to provide it to the vast majority of defendants. Although real progress has been made over the past few years, there are still fewer than 150 public defenders in the country, with the result that most Paraguayans are forced to rely on private finance, thus limiting defense to those who have the requisite financial resources.[32] Furthermore, the national police are inadequately funded and staffed, as well as poorly trained in all aspects of police work from public order to investigative procedure. In practice, criminal investigations are usually carried out by lawyers, who are privately employed by the injured party, provided sufficient personal finances are available.

The police are also widely perceived as institutionally corrupt and there is evidence of continued police involvement in crime (a legacy of the dictatorship) and links to national mafias. As a result, distrust of the police is high - over 83 percent of the population do not trust the police - and less than 5 percent of crimes are reported in Asuncion.[33] The perception is widespread that police protect local vested interests and enjoy a high level of impunity in terms of corruption, abuse of human rights, and excessive use of violence. Reform of the national police has mainly focused on improvements to equipment, although the new administration has promised a program of large-scale retirements and transfers to reduce corruption as part of its public sector anticorruption campaign.

Between 1954 and 1989 the armed forces were a central pillar of the Stroessner dictatorship, highly politicized and closely linked to the ruling Colorado Party. Since the beginning of the transition in 1989, serious violations of the prohibition on military involvement in politics have taken place, especially in the period 1992 to 1996 when supporters of ex-General Lino Oviedo within the armed forces repeatedly made political comments to the press and even political speeches at rallies organized by the Colorado Party. Sectors of the armed forces and the police supporting Oviedo were involved in unsuccessful coup attempts in 1996, 1999, and 2000 (Oviedo is currently in prison awaiting trial). Overall, however, the security forces have been noticeably depoliticized in the past decade; they no longer play an overt role in politics, remaining instead under the effective control of civilian authorities. Since 1989 efforts have been made to sever the Colorado Party - armed forces links through the 1990 Electoral Law, the constitution, and replacement and rotation of personnel. Troops are still widely used in issues of public order, especially in land disputes and occupations, and in 2003 the government was widely criticized for twice briefly sending troops onto the streets of Asuncion in response to a perceived rise in criminal behavior. Impunity and a lack of public accountability are still widely seen as characteristics of the armed forces.

The constitution guarantees full protection of property rights. However, due to the highly unequal distribution of land, the high level of landlessness among the rural population, and the lack of land reform over the past 15 years, land occupations and conflicts continued to escalate throughout 2003 and 2004. In some cases (such as in that of a land dispute and peasant occupation of agricultural lands near Asuncion that led to the founding of the Marquetalia peasant settlement in 2003) the government has intervened in favor of landless peasants. However, generally security forces have viewed such conflicts as questions of public order and intervened on behalf of landowners. In mid-2004, following a strong resurgence in peasant land occupations, President Duarte entered into negotiations with the two major peasant organizations to end the land conflict and introduce a long-overdue land reform programme. However, Duarte found himself under pressure from two irreconcilable forces - peasant organizations and landowners - and hence with little room to progress. As a result, progress stalled, and land conflicts continued throughout the latter half of 2004.

Indigenous communities have frequently complained regarding nonrecognition of titles and invasion of lands by private individuals, groups, and companies. There is no adequate state protection of indigenous habitat, and the state is failing in its constitutional duty to protect communities from uncontrolled and increasing deforestation and ecological degradation. Moreover, while the property interests of indigenous people are protected, they are not fully codified, with the result that in practice, police or legal protection is insufficient to prevent illegal occupations of indigenous land. INDI, the government ministry for indigenous peoples, has the authority to purchase land for communities and to expropriate land, but a combination of under-funding, non-delivery of promised funds, a lack of fulfillment of obligations, and institutional corruption have limited their effectiveness. Of 56 land claims made by indigenous people since 1989, only 17 have been resolved and none of these since 1998.[34] Significantly, there is no state budget for land acquisition, and no political party has a policy on indigenous peoples.

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Corruption is both endemic and systemic in Paraguay. This is in great part due to the rampant corruption of the Stroessner dictatorship, which permitted and was involved in a wide variety of illegal and corrupt activities, including drug trafficking, contraband, and arms smuggling, as mechanisms of political control and support. However, during the transition corruption has escalated, pervading all sectors of government, in a seemingly endless list of scandals.[35] Paraguay is now renowned as a regional center for organized crime, the influence of which has reached the highest government levels. The governments of Rodriguez (1989 - 93), Wasmosy (1993 - 98), Cubas Grau (1998 - 99) and Gonzalez Macchi (1999 - 2003) were all heavily involved in different aspects of corruption, representing the different faces of military and civilian involvement. Meanwhile, over the course of the transition, powerful economic groups have routinely been able to use their influence to buy congressional votes. Despite promises to tackle corruption, successive governments have lacked the political will to implement the necessary measures. Indeed, of Paraguay's four ex-presidents in the transition, one (Cubas Grau) is in prison, and two, Wasmosy and Gonzalez Macchi, are currently facing criminal proceedings for corruption and are barred from leaving the country. The fourth, Rodriguez, heavily implicated in international contraband, died in 1997.

Despite being a partner in U.S.-sponsored hemispheric initiatives to combat narcotics, money laundering, trafficking in people, contraband, and intellectual property rights, Paraguay remains a major regional center and conduit for narcotics and arms smuggling, contraband, money laundering, counterfeiting, and pirated goods from East Asia (leading to growing pressure from the United States over infringements of intellectual property rights). This reflects both weak laws (in the case of copyright, for example) and minimal implementation of existing laws. The result of years of high-level tolerance of corruption in both the public and private sectors has resulted in an appropriately poor international image. According to Transparency International, Paraguay was the third most corrupt country in the world in 2002 and fourth most corrupt in 2003 - in both cases ranking as the most corrupt country in Latin America.[36] Much of the corruption is due to a lack of internal government transparency, with little independent scrutiny of the executive, legislature, or public sector.

Corruption is rampant in a public sector that remains highly bureaucratic, inefficient, and unreformed. Indeed, the state is institutionally and structurally corrupt, characterized by a lack of real controls and oversight and the overlapping of authority and functions. It is also highly politicized and strongly linked to the ruling Colorado Party. Efforts to reduce excessive, and loss-making, state involvement in the economy through privatization have been slow and widely discredited due to the lack of procedural transparency and the extent of corruption and inefficiency involved in the few completed transfers to the private sector. The lack of transparency in terms of those officials responsible for state assets is exacerbated by poor internal auditing systems that are often subject to corruption. There is no legislation providing for public financial disclosure for government personnel or effective legislation concerning appropriate ethical standards or establishing clear boundaries between public and personal interests. As a result, abuses of public office and trust are commonplace. Corruption in the awarding of government contracts is widespread. Despite an active media, which does seek out and report cases of corruption (providing there is no political conflict of interest with the media proprietors), the effectiveness of prosecutions is severely hindered by the inefficiency, politicization, and corruption within the judiciary. Many citizens fear coming forward as witnesses or plaintiffs due to the risk of reprisals.

Since coming to power in August 2003 President Duarte has identified the struggle to purge institutionalized corruption as the central governance challenge in Paraguay and a major program of his presidency. In 2003 he began a highly successful campaign to reduce corruption in tax collection - evasion was estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at approximately 70 percent.[37] This included the rotation and isolation of corrupt officials and a reduction in the number of officials and departments dedicated to corruption controls - ironically also a source of widespread corruption - including a 250-person special unit for investigation into Paraguay's largest company taxpayers.[38] As a result, in the first year tax receipts were up by over 40 percent.[39] The government has also shown itself keen to clamp down on illegal activities in the border region between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, closing more than 50 illegal businesses in Ciudad del Este thought to be involved in contraband and narcotics.

Duarte has also carried the anticorruption campaign to the police, leading to a purge of high-ranking officers in October 2003. He removed the director of customs, the head of social security, and the president of the state oil company, Petropar, and his own interior minister, Roberto Gonzalez, all on corruption-related charges. Long overdue reform of the public sector has begun with the Ministry of Finance, which under the independent finance minister, Dionisio Borda, is fast becoming seen as an island of integrity in its struggle against public-sector corruption, especially due to its improvements in internal auditing and accountability. This concept has been successfully exported to the key area of customs, which was previously a center of corruption. Under pressure from watchdog groups, the government is beginning to promote reforms on a range of key issues, such as publication of interests and finances of politicians, combating conflicts of interest and nepotism in the public sector, and promoting merit-based appointment and promotion in the public sector. In addition, Duarte has tightened up significantly on public procurement, a traditional source of kickbacks, by introducing a more transparent system of tendering for the public sector and an independent watchdog to monitor the process.

Paraguay is one of the few countries in the hemisphere to have complete legislation regarding habeas data (the right of all to personal information in public and private records), although in practice bureaucracy and red tape tend to make access extremely difficult. In 2001 efforts were made to pass a law to ensure greater access to information, but it remains in Congress, with little hope of progressing in the near future. President Duarte has repeatedly signaled that he is in favor of greater government transparency and access to information. The Ministry of Finance has been at the center of this policy, and it has made great strides in increasing internal transparency and accessibility of information, including through the publication of budgetary information on its Web site.

However, the scale and pervasiveness of corruption and illegal financial and economic activities makes reform a difficult and long-term task. Corruption is present at the highest levels of state and government. Hence, reform would involve a high level of political risk, as it would bring Duarte into conflict with members of his own party and perhaps of his own cabinet and risk upsetting the already delicate balance of political power in Congress. It would also be a dangerous task, involving taking on powerful groups operating outside the law, which allegedly exercise a considerable degree of influence over the legislature and the judiciary. However, with corruption representing a major obstacle to development, justice, and democracy in Paraguay, reform is a key task for the current administration.

  • Professionalization of the state sector should be based on the introduction and promotion of merit-based systems of appointments and promotions.
  • Thorough reform of party campaign financing is required to prevent vested interests from buying congressional seats. This should include tighter controls on misuse of public and private funds for electoral campaigns, greater transparency in party accounts, and publication of all private party donations.
  • Political parties should be encouraged to promote a higher proportion of women candidates in elections. Measures should also be taken to ensure the greater presence of women candidates in the upper echelons of party lists, including through reform of the Electoral Law.
  • Appropriate funds and political and judicial support should be devoted to investigating and punishing alleged corruption, especially among politicians, members of the public sector, and the security forces.
  • Efforts to promote democratic public sector reform should focus on reducing (Colorado Party) political influence in the state sector. Great care should be taken with any plans for privatization to ensure a high level of transparency and legitimacy and to minimize corruption. Reform efforts should also seek to emulate and promote as good practice the significant progress already made in the Ministry of Finance in terms of internal auditing, transparency, publication of budgets via the Web, and anticorruption strategies.
  • Work with international partners should continue against the illegal international trade in narcotics, arms smuggling, money laundering, and contraband.
  • A bill should be introduced to strengthen, regulate, and protect in practice and under law the right to information, as a basic tool to strengthen democracy.
  • The government should consider the creation of an independent anticorruption ombudsman to play a public role in investigating and denouncing abuses and promoting reforms, as well as the creation of an independent Office of the Inspector General in all key ministries.
  • A comprehensive and transparent system of merit-based selection and promotion of judges should be established and adhered to.
  • Political influence in the judiciary needs to be eradicated, by agreement of all political parties and at all levels.
  • A clear judicial complaints system needs to be established, including guarantees of the anonymity and protection of the plaintiff, transparency of any investigation, and a set framework of investigative and disciplinary procedures.
  • Greater resources are needed to improve the role of public defenders and to provide training to improve police investigative capacity.
  • The government must comply with its commitment to introduce a thorough and long-overdue land reform program to defuse rising tensions and conflict in the countryside. This should form part of its commitment to direct the maximum resources available to improve basic social services, including the provision of funds to guarantee adequate land, and protection of the environment.
  • The police need appropriate training in the principles of democracy, the observance of human rights, and public order. Cases of torture, impunity, and excessive use of force should be dealt with expeditiously and transparently. The penal code must be fully implemented, with special attention to minimizing the duration of preventive detention and speeding up judicial processes.
  • Prison conditions should be improved with special attention to overcrowding and lack of basic health care and sanitation.
  • The constitutional rights of indigenous people must be fully implemented, including greater legal protection of individuals and labor rights, and provision of funds to guarantee basic social welfare.
  • The government should ensure the payment of all reparations designated by the ombudsman in cases of violation of human rights under the dictatorship. The government should also agree to abide by the commission’s recommendations and widely disseminate any reports once they are released.
  • The penal code should be reworded to classify torture in strict accordance with the definition in the UN Convention on Torture, fully adopting its conventions on procedures including investigation, prosecution, punishment, and compensation.

[1] For an in-depth analysis of poverty and inequality in Paraguay, see E. Gacitua Mario, A. Silva-Leander, and M. Carter, "Paraguay: Social Development Issues for Poverty Alleviation," Social Development Papers no.3 (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2004).

[2] Indicadores de Bienestar: Porcentaje de Poblacion por Status de Pobreza (Asuncion, Paraguay: Direccion General de Estadisticas, Encuestas y Censos [DGEEC], 2003),

[3] L. Moliner, "Analisis Economico," in Informe Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 2003, Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay (CODEHUPY) (Asuncion: Litocolor, 2003, 25).

[4] "Informe Resumen Latinobarometro" (Santiago, Chile: Latinobarometro Corporation, 2004),

[5] E. Gacitua Mario et al., "Paraguay," 25.

[6] R. A. Nickson and P. Lambert, "State Reform and the Privatised State in Paraguay," Public Administration and Development 22 (2002): 163-174.

[7] For an in-depth analysis of civic action, see C. Soto, L. Bareiro, Q. Riquelme, and R. Villalba, "Sociedad Civil y Construccion Democratica en Paraguay," in M. Albuquerque, La Construccion Democratica desde abajo en el Cono Sur (Sao Paolo: Instituto Polis, 2004), 135-193.

[8] Paraguay: Annual Report (Paris: Reporters sans frontieres [RSF], 2004),

[9] Sindicato de Periodistas Paraguayos (SPP), "No disminuyen obstaculos para el acceso a la informacion publica," Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 165-172.

[10] Third Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Paraguay (Washington, DC: Organisation of American States [OAS], IACHR, 2001),

[11] H. Valiente, "Tortura: Impunidad Garantizada," Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 37-48.

[12] Reporte Anual sobre los Sistemas Judiciales en las Americas (Santiago, Chile: Centro de Estudios de Justicia de las Americas [CEJA], 2003),

[13] Ibid.

[14] Figures calculated from Informe Anual de la Direccion General de Institutos Penales 2003 (Asuncion, Paraguay: Direccion General de Institutos Penales, 2003).

[15] M. L. Rodriguez, "Analisis de la coyuntura sociopolitica," Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 16.

[16] "Nuestra Opinion," Informativo Campesino, Centro de Documentacion y Estudios (Asuncion, Paraguay, August 2004), 2.

[17] C.Soto et al (2004), 163.

[18] Report on Paraguay (New York: Amnesty International [AI], 2004),

[19] For a breakdown of responsibilities, powers and composition of the Commission, see Law no. 2225,

[20] O. Martinez and M.Gonzalez, "Igualdad de las Mujeres y los Desafios ante el Nuevo Gobierno," Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 109.

[21] H. Soto, M. Gonzalez and M. Elias, Encuesta Nacional sobre la Violencia Domestica e Intrafamiliar (Asuncion: Centro de Documentacion y Estudios, 2003), 5.

[22] O. Martinez and M. Gonzalez, Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 106.

[23] C. Pacheco and M. Horvath, "La Situacion de las Personas con Discapacidad en las Politicas Sociales Nacionales," Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 147-51.

[24] Third Report (OAS, IACHR, 2001), 106.

[25] Educacion para Todos (Asuncion: Ministerio de Educacion, 2000), 32.

[26] E. Gacitua Mario et al., "Paraguay," 10.

[27] R. Villalba, "El Movimiento Sindical: Aun Mucho por Resolver" Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 206.

[28] Ibid., 202.

[29] L.E. Escobar Faella, "Estalla la crisis del sistema del Justicia" Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 61-70.

[30] Latin American Weekly Reports (LAWR), 1 March 2004, 4.

[31] Report (AI, 2004).

[32] Reporte Anual (CEJA, 2003).

[33] M. L. Rodriguez, "Analisis de la Coyuntura Sociopolitica" Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 16.

[34] A. Ramirez, "Indigenas; pocos avances para los pueblos indigenas" Informe . . . (CODEHUPY), 2003, 377.

[35] R. A. Nickson, "Corruption and the Transition" in P. Lambert and R. A. Nickson, The Transition to Democracy in Paraguay (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), 24-46.

[36] See "Corruption Perceptions Index" 2002 and 2003 (Berlin: Transparency International),

[37] Latin America Monitor: Southern Cone 19, 9 (September 2002): 7.

[38] R. A. Nickson, "Development Prospects for Paraguay Under the Government of Nicanor Duarte Frutos," Analisis del Real Instituto, Madrid, July 2004.

[39] Realidad, Economica Nacional (Asuncion: Ministerio de Hacienda, 2004), 14.