Freedom in the World
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Paraguay received an upward trend arrow due to the increased ability of the opposition to participate in the political process during the presidential election, which led to the first peaceful transfer of power from the long-ruling Colorado Party.
Fernando Lugo, leader of the coalition Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC) was elected president in April 2008, ending 61 years of governance by the world’s longest ruling party—the Colorados. Previously a liberation theologist, President Lugo announced plans to implement far-reaching land reform and has pledged to fight Paraguay’s endemic corruption. While he declared his intention not to renew Paraguay’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund, Lugo plans to maintain his predecessor’s orthodox economic policies. Meanwhile, corruption in the judiciary and harassment of journalists by government officials continued during the year.
Paraguay, which achieved independence from Spain in 1811, has been racked by a series of crises since authoritarian president Alfredo Stroessner of the right-wing Colorado Party was ousted in 1989 after 35 years in power. The fragility of the country’s emerging democratic institutions resulted in nearly 15 years of popular uprisings, military mutinies, antigovernment demonstrations, bitter political rivalries, and continued rule by the Colorados.
Senate leader Luis Gonzalez Macchi assumed the presidency in 1999 after the incumbent fled the country amid murder charges. In December 2002, GonzalezMacchi offered to leave office three months early, just a week after lawmakers voted to begin impeachment hearings against him for embezzlement. GonzalezMacchi and many other members of theColorado Partywere also discredited by their failed efforts to reverse the country’s downward economic spiral.
Former education minister Nicanor Duarte Frutos of the Colorado Party emerged victorious in thenational elections of 2003. After taking office, Duarte moved to take control of the tax, port, and customs authorities to combat tax evasion and smuggling. Paraguay has a highly dollarized banking system, which facilitates the illegal transfer of funds to offshore accounts. This tax evasion as well as prevalent corruption deprived the state ofabout two-thirds of its legitimate revenues.
Despite the difficult political environment, Duarte made some progress on his fiscal and tax-reform agenda. In addition to a major tax-reform bill passed in 2004, a personal income tax was enactedby Congress in January 2007. A 2006 standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) boosted investor confidence in Paraguay. Duarte did not run for an additional term, which is prohibited by the constitution.
Fernando Lugo, leader of the Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC)—a heterogeneous coalition comprising 20 parties including Christian Democrats, socialists, communists and peasant organizations—was elected president in April 2008 with 42 percent of the vote, taking office on August 15. Lugo’s election represented widespread disappointment in the Colorado party, which had failed to address Paraguay’s intractable problems of low public security, slow economic growth, endemic public corruption, and a poverty rate of more than 35 percent. His election also raised expectations that the standard of living for Paraguay's poor majority would improve. Known as “bishop to the poor,” President Lugo is a former Roman Catholic bishop with radical socialist views. One of his principal goals is to address Paraguay’s highly skewed land distribution through ambitious land reform. In the 2007/2008 United Nations Human Development report, Paraguay was ranked 95 out of 177 countries for its Gini Index (measuring income inequality)—worse than nearby Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. Lugo has pledged not to renew Paraguay’s 2006 IMF agreement, which expired this year. However, he began his term pragmatically, appointing a moderate cabinet and committing to orthodox economic policies.
The Authentic Liberal Radical Party (PLRA), part of President Lugo’s coalition, performed strongly in the April Congressional elections. While this helped his alliance gain a working majority in Congress, the heterogeneous APC coalition includes both conservative and leftist parties and will be difficult to unify.
Paraguay is an electoral democracy. The 2008 national elections were considered to be free and fair. 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, all elected for five-year terms. The president is elected by a simple majority vote, and reelection is prohibited. The constitution bans the active-duty military from engaging in politics.
Before Fernando Lugo and the APC came to power in 2008, the Colorado Party ruled Paraguay for over 60 years.The other major political groupings include the Authentic Liberal Radical Party (PLRA), the Beloved Fatherland Party, the National Union of Ethical Citizens, and the National Agreement Party.
Corruption cases languish for years in the courts without resolution, and corruption often goes unpunished as judges favor the powerful and wealthy. High level corruption cases are a constant in Paraguay’s political life. President Nicanor Duarte Frutos’s administration worked to curb corruption through his 2007 tax reforms that encouraged the formalization of previously informal economic activity. A personal income tax was introduced, to be implemented in January 2009, and taxes on businesses were lowered to discourage evasion. The administration of Fernando Lugo has pledged to increase overall transparency in government and reduce corruption, most notably in the judiciary. However, by the end of 2008, no progress on changing Paraguay’s corrupt Supreme Court had been made. Transparency International ranked Paraguay 138 out of 180 countries surveyed in its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, below all other countries in the Americas save Ecuador, Venezuela, and Haiti.
The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. There are a number of private television and radio stations and independent newspapers but only one state-owned media outlet, Radio Nacional, which has a limited audience. Journalists investigating corruption or drug trafficking are often the victims of threats and violent attacks. This climate of insecurity showed no improvement in 2008 as harassment of journalists by government officials continued.Alfredo Alvaros, a political activist and radio commentator who spoke out against drug trafficking on Paraguay’s border with Brazil, came under gunfire in April 2008. The attack left Alvaros seriously injured and killed his wife. Vague, potentially restrictive laws that mandate “responsible” behavior by the media also threaten free expression. The government does not restrict use of the internet, nor does it censor internet content.
The government generally respects freedom of religion. All religious groups are required to register with the Ministry of Education and Culture, but no controls are imposed on these groups, and many informal churches exist. The government generally does not restrict academic freedom.
Freedoms of association and assembly were undermined by the government of former president Luis Gonzalez Macchi, which tolerated threats and the use of force against the opposition. However, the constitution does guarantee these rights, and both Presidents Duarte and Lugo have respected these rights in practice. There are numerous trade unions, although they are weak and riddled with corruption. The labor code provides for the right to strike and prohibits retribution against strikers. However, employers often illegally dismiss and harass strikers and union leaders, and the government has failed in practice to address or prevent retaliation by employers against strikers.
The judiciary, under the influence of the ruling party and the military, is highly corrupt. Courts are inefficient and political interference in the judiciary is a serious problem, with politicians routinely pressuring judges and blocking investigations. While the judiciary is nominally independent, 62 percent of judges are members of the Colorado party. In August 2008, a court cleared former general Lino Oviedo of existing assassination charges, which permitted him to compete in the presidential elections and led to allegations of political involvement in judicial decision-making. The constitution permits detention without trial until the accused hascompleted the minimum sentence for the alleged crime. Illegal detention by police and torture during incarceration still occur, particularly in rural areas. Poorly paid and corrupt police officials remain in key posts. Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and mistreatment of inmates are serious problems in the country’s prisons; the prison population is currently at 179 percent capacity.
The lack of security in border areas, particularly in the tri-border region adjacent to Brazil and Argentina, has allowed organized crime groups to engage in money laundering and the smuggling of weapons and narcotics. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001 attention focused on the serious lack of government control over Paraguay’s lengthy and undeveloped land borders and extensive river network. While there are no known terrorist cells in the tri-border area, it is suspected that Lebanese residents living there send money to terrorist-linked groups in the Middle East.
The constitution provides Paraguay’s estimated 90,000 indigenous people with the right to participate in the economic, social, and political life of the country. In practice, however,the indigenous population is unassimilated and neglected. Low wages, nonpayment of wages, and lack of access to social security benefits are common. Peasant organizations sometimesoccupy land illegally, and landowners often respond withdeath threats and forced evictions by hired vigilante groups. Violence between landless peasants and the predominantly Brazilian landowners practicing large-scale farming intensified in 2008. Lugo’s support for land redistribution has radicalized Paraguay’s landless peasant movement, leading to violent clashes between the two groups. Additionally, impoverished indigenous groups in the Chaco region are among the most neglected in the Americas, with the vast majority of homes lacking proper sanitation and drinking water.
An estimated 6 out of every 10 children born in Paraguay are not registered at birth and consequently lack access to public health and educational services. Sexual and domestic abuse of women continues to be a serious problem. Although the government generally prosecutes rape allegations and often obtains convictions, many rapes go unreported because victims fear their attackers or are concerned that the law willnot respect their privacy. Employment discrimination against women is pervasive. Trafficking in persons is proscribed by the constitution and criminalized in the penal code, but there have been occasional reports of trafficking for sexual purposes.