Freedom in the World
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Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Paraguay received a downward trend arrow due to the collapse of unelected President Luis Gonzalez Macchi's multiparty coalition and multiple corruption scandals affecting senior members of his government.
In December 2002, President Luis Gonzalez Macchi offered to leave office three months early, just a week after lawmakers voted to start impeachment hearings against him. Accused of buying a stolen luxury car and of mishandling millions of dollars in state revenues, Gonzalez Macchi and his Colorado Party struggled unsuccessfully to reverse Paraguay's downward economic spiral in one of Latin America's poorest countries. One out of every three Paraguayans lives below the poverty line, and emigrating to Argentina, the traditional escape of the poor, has become unattractive because of that country's own economic crisis. Paraguay's economy remains heavily based on agriculture and contraband of all sorts, and the country has one of the most unequal distributions of land in the world.
Paraguay achieved independence from Spain in 1811. It has been wracked by a series of crises since civilian rule was restored in 1989 and the 35-year reign of right-wing dictator Alfredo Stroessner was ended. The fragility of the country's democratic institutions has resulted in nearly 15 years of popular uprisings, military mutinies, antigovernment demonstrations, and bitter political rivalries. In July 2002, Gonzalez Macchi was forced to call on the military to help police restore order following protests in the capital, Asuncion. Disillusionment with the entire political system--encompassing the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government--was evidenced by the low turnout in the 2001 municipal elections, where participation by young people, who constitute nearly three-fourths of the population, was almost nonexistent.
In October 2002, Vice President Julio Cesar Franco, a bitter Gonzalez Macchi critic and a member of the opposition Liberal Radical Authentic Party, resigned in order to run for president in the April 2003 elections. Franco was elected vice president in August 2000, a year after Gonzalez Macchi assumed the presidency. International concern about individuals and organizations with ties to Middle Eastern extremist groups operating in Ciudad del Este and along the tri-border area, where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet, followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States.
The 1992 constitution provides for a president, a vice president, and a bicameral congress consisting of a 45-member senate and an 80-member chamber of deputies elected for five years. The president is elected by a simple majority, and reelection is prohibited. The constitution bans the active military from engaging in politics.
The constitution also provides for regular elections. Municipal elections held in 2001 were generally free and fair, although electoral participation throughout the country was the lowest since 1989. In a positive development, Colorado Party reformer Enrique Riera won the Asuncion mayoralty, one of the country's most powerful political posts.
The constitution guarantees free political and civic organization and religious expression. However, political rights and civil liberties are undermined by the government's tolerance of threats of intimidation and the use of force, including imprisonment, by its supporters against the opposition.
The judiciary, under the influence of the ruling party and the military, is susceptible to the corruption pervading all public and governmental institutions. Corruption cases languish for years in the courts, and most end without resolution. Allegations include illegal detention by police and torture during incarceration, particularly in rural areas. The presence of law enforcement is scarce throughout Paraguay. Reportedly corrupt police officials remain in key posts and are in a position to give protection to, or compromise law enforcement actions against, narcotics traffickers. Colombian drug traffickers continue to expand operations in Paraguay, and accusations of high official involvement in drug trafficking date back to the 1980s.
The lack of security in border areas, particularly in the tri-border region, has allowed large organized-crime groups to engage in piracy and in the smuggling of weapons, narcotics, and contraband. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, attention focused on the serious lack of governmental control over Paraguay's lengthy and undeveloped land borders, extensive river network, and numerous airstrips (both registered and unregistered). The Iguazu triangle, as it is called, given its proximity to Iguazu Falls, is the region extending from the cities of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, Foz do Iguacu in Brazil, and Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. The region contains more than 100 runways, many clandestine, and the Paraguay-Brazil border has long been a scene of major commercial contraband, including the smuggling of stolen cars. The Islamic extremist organization Hezbollah and other militant organizations are active in the region. A joint intelligence center run by Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay monitors the region, and all three countries use their air forces for surveillance and interdiction efforts.
Overcrowding, unsanitary living conditions, and mistreatment are serious problems in Paraguayan prisons. More than 95 percent of the prisoners held are pending trial, many for months or years after arrest. The constitution permits detention without trial until the accused completes the minimum sentence for the alleged crime.
In Paraguay, there is only one state-owned medium, the Radio Nacional, which has a limited listenership. A number of private television and radio stations exist, as do a number of independent newspapers. However, journalists investigating corruption or covering strikes and protests are often the victims of intimidation or violent attack by security forces. Free expression is also threatened by vague, potentially restrictive laws that mandate "responsible" behavior by journalists and media owners.
The Paraguayan constitution provides indigenous people with the right to participate in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the country; however, the indigenous population, estimated at 75,000 to 100,000, is unassimilated and neglected. Low wages, long work hours, infrequent payment (or nonpayment) of wages, job insecurity, lack of access to social security benefits, and racial discrimination are common.
Peasant and Indian organizations demanding and illegally occupying land often meet with police crackdowns, death threats, detentions, and forced evictions by vigilante groups in the employ of landowners. According to official statistics, 39 percent of Paraguayans speak only Guarani, 49 percent are bilingual, and 12 percent speak only Spanish.
There are numerous trade unions and two major union federations, although they are weak and riddled with corruption. The constitution gives public sector workers the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike, and nearly all these workers belong to the ruling Colorado Party. A new labor code designed to protect workers' rights was passed in October 1993.
Sexual and domestic abuse of women, which is both widespread and vastly underreported, continues to be a serious problem in Paraguay. Spousal abuse is common.