Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Paraguay received a downward trend arrow due to the swift parliamentary ouster of President Fernando Lugo without due process and a worsening press environment under the new administration.
The Paraguayan parliament controversially ousted President Fernando Lugo on June 22, 2012, replacing him with Vice President Federico Franco. The new administration proceeded to purge and assume greater control of state-owned media, while also implementing important tax reform. Separately, the Paraguayan People’s Army, a radical socialist guerilla group, continued attacks, targeting a radio station in October 2012.
Paraguay, which achieved independence from Spain in 1811, was racked by a series of crises following the 1989 ouster of authoritarian president Alfredo Stroessner of the right-wing Colorado Party 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 González Macchi assumed the presidency in 1999 after the incumbent fled the country amid murder charges. In 2002, González Macchi offered to leave office early to avoid pending impeachment hearings against him for embezzlement. Former education minister Nicanor Duarte Frutos of the Colorado Party emerged victorious in the 2003 national elections. After taking office, Duarte moved to assume control of the tax, port, and customs authorities to combat rampant tax evasion and smuggling.
Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic priest and the leader of the Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC) coalition, was elected president in 2008, representing the first time in Paraguay’s history that power was transferred peacefully to an opposing party. In concurrent legislative elections, the Authentic Liberal Radical Party (PLRA), part of Lugo’s coalition that included both conservative and leftist parties, performed strongly, though it captured slightly fewer seats than the Colorado Party. Lugo’s election raised expectations that the standard of living for Paraguay’s poor majority would improve. However, Lugo was never able to implement the land reform necessary to address Paraguay’s highly skewed land distribution. He also lost support when evidence emerged starting in 2009 that he fathered up to four children while he was still a priest.
The rise of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP)—an armed leftist guerilla group—forced Lugo to declare a month-long state of emergency in half of the country in April 2010. After a lull, the group reemerged in January 2011 with a series of bombings and attacks across the country that continued periodically into 2012. While several senior EPP members have been captured, the group continued its campaign of kidnapping, extortion, and bombing attacks. The EPP claimed responsibility for the October 2012 bombing of a privately owned radio station in the northern department of Concepción, and also announced its intention to kill three journalists for repeatedly criticizing the EPP.
Representing a major victory for Paraguay, Congress ratified an agreement with Brazil in 2011 that settled a decades-long dispute over payments for energy produced by the Itaipú hydroelectric dam. As a result, it was expected that Paraguay’s income from the dam would triple. A law passed in September 2012 earmarked approximately $40 million annually from dam proceeds in support of information technology in schools.
In addition to the paternity scandals, Lugo’s presidency was complicated by a publically unsupportive vice president, strong Colorado opposition in Congress, his struggle with lymphatic cancer, and intermittent rumors of a military coup. But the June 22, 2012, near-unanimous Congressional vote that impeached President Lugo due to “poor performance of his duties” still shocked the nation. Lugo stepped down peacefully after the swift two-day trial, and Vice President Federico Franco was sworn in as president. The reported catalyst was the violent eviction of landless protesters the week before in which 11 peasants and 6 policemen were killed. While Paraguay’s neighbors condemned the impeachment for its lack of due process, the move did not provoke domestic outrage in a large-scale or sustained manner. During the second half of 2012, Franco was able to implement important reforms, including passing Paraguay’s first ever personal income tax, and more quickly and efficiently awarding land titles to rural squatters. His successor will be elected in April 2013.
Paraguay is an electoral democracy. However, while the congressional vote impeaching Fernando Lugo was technically constitutional, his swift ouster raised questions about the absence of due process. 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 to a five-year term, and reelection is prohibited. The constitution bans active-duty military from engaging in politics.
Before President Fernando Lugo and the APC came to power in 2008, the Colorado Party had ruled Paraguay for over 60 years. The other major political groupings include the 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. The Lugo administration pledged to increase overall transparency in government and reduce corruption, specifically in the judiciary. However, the president was unable to depoliticize Paraguay’s corrupt Supreme Court. Paraguay was ranked 150 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and the press, but the de facto respect of these rights by the government sharply deteriorated with the onset of the Franco government. For example, 27 journalists and other employees—individuals the Lugo administration initially recruited —were fired from TV Publica in September 2012, and its air time was disrupted immediately following Lugo’s impeachment. In 2012, journalists investigating corruption and organized crime or who were vocally critical of the government suffered threats and violent attacks by drug cartels, government officials, and the EPP. Direct pressure by criminal groups and corrupt authorities led journalists to censor themselves in 2012, especially in remote border areas. There are a number of private television and radio stations and independent newspapers, as well as two state-owned media outlets, Radio Nacional and TV Publica. Paraguay does not have a right to information law and continues to use defamation laws against the press. The government does not restrict internet use, nor does it censor its 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 does not restrict academic freedom.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of association and assembly, and these rights are respected in practice. There are a number of trade unions, but they are weak and riddled with corruption. The labor code provides for the right to strike and prohibits retribution against strikers, though the government generally has failed to address or prevent employer retaliation. Employers often illegally and dismiss strikers and union leaders.
The judiciary is nominally independent but is highly corrupt and dominated by judges who are members of the Colorado Party. Courts are inefficient, and political interference in the judiciary is a serious problem, as politicians routinely pressure judges and block investigations. The constitution permits detention without trial until the accused has completed the minimum sentence for the alleged crime. Illegal detention by police and torture during incarceration still occur, particularly in rural areas. Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and mistreatment of inmates are serious problems in the country’s prisons.
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. The Shiite Islamist movement Hezbollah has long been involved in narcotics and human trafficking in the largely ungoverned tri-border area. In recent years, Hezbollah has developed ties with Mexican drug cartels.
The constitution provides Paraguay’s estimated 108,000 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. Peasant organizations sometimes occupy land illegally, and landowners often respond with death threats and forced evictions by hired vigilante groups. On a positive note, the government made additional progress in 2012 in returning ancestral land to indigenous groups. After almost two decades of legal battles, Paraguayan authorities and a landowner finalized a deal in February to allow the Yakye Axa indigenous community to return to more than 12,000 hectares of ancestral land. This deal followed a September 2011 agreement outlining a government purchase eventually return land to the Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community.
Employment discrimination against women is pervasive. 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 will not respect their privacy. 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 and domestic servitude.