Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Horacio Cartes, a tobacco magnate and political newcomer, was elected president on April 21. Cartes’s Colorado Party had governed Paraguay for 61 years before losing the presidency in 2008 to Fernando Lugo, who was controversially ousted in 2012. Cartes ran on a platform of change, promising increased investment in ailing public infrastructure as well as an end to official corruption and cronyism. The credibility of this pledge was complicated by the fact that President Cartes has himself been suspected of money laundering and involvement in Paraguay’s growing drug trafficking network.
Upon taking office, the new Cartes government initiated a military and publicity offensive against the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a nationalist guerilla group that had renewed its activity in 2012. In response to the killing of five security guards in August 2013, allegedly by the EPP, the Senate one week later passed major reforms to the National Defense Law that give the president sweeping powers to deploy the military.
Increased drug trafficking and the growing presence of organized crime undermined public security. The high-profile murder of a well-known cattle farmer in May raised questions about the role of the EPP, possible complicity of the government, and the relative absence of effective state protection from criminal groups operating in Paraguay.
Political Rights: 26 / 40 (-1) [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 10 / 12
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. Congress is elected by proportional representation. The constitution bans active-duty military from engaging in politics.
While the congressional vote impeaching Lugo in 2012 was technically constitutional, his swift ouster raised questions about the absence of due process. Presidential elections held in April 2013 brought the Colorado Party’s Cartes to office with 46 percent of the vote, against 37 percent for his principal opponent, Efraín Alegre of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA). In concurrent legislative elections, Colorado captured 19 Senate seats and 45 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, while the PLRA won 13 and 26 seats in the respective bodies. Several small parties also hold a handful of seats. The elections were marred by allegations of vote-buying.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 12 / 16
The system is open to the rise of different political parties, although before President Lugo and the Alianza Patriótica por el Cambio (APC) came to power in 2008, the center-right Colorado Party had ruled Paraguay for over 60 years. The liberal PLRA is the other major political party. Smaller parties with congressional representation include the Patria Querida, the Unión Nacional de Ciudadanos Éticos, and the Partido Encuentro Nacional.
C. Functioning of Government: 4 / 12 (-1)
August reforms to the National Defense Law allow the president to deploy soldiers anywhere in the country at any time, with the sole requirement that the government inform Congress within 48 hours. While Congress can then vote to terminate the operation, human rights organizations and rural social movements condemned the law for diluting congressional oversight. The government argued the law would enable it to respond more effectively to the EPP.
Corruption is embedded in all levels of government. Corruption cases languish for years in the courts without resolution, and corruption often goes unpunished as judges favor the powerful and wealthy. Successive presidential administrations have pledged to increase overall transparency in government and reduce corruption, specifically in the judiciary, but progress has not been forthcoming. Paraguay was ranked 150 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 35 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 12 / 16 (+1)
The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and the press, but respect of these rights is significantly compromised in practice. Direct pressure by criminal groups and corrupt authorities lead journalists to censor themselves, especially in remote border areas, and threats against journalists are common. A local radio owner was murdered in February in a department bordering Brazil, and a journalist was shot to death in April in a city also near the border, presumably in connection with his reporting. Organized crime was suspected to be behind both assaults, although no one had been arrested by year’s end. 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 Pública. 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.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 8 / 12
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. It is common for employers to illegally dismiss strikers and union leaders. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, nearly all collective agreements in the public sector are not recognized due to interference by the secretary for the civil service.
F. Rule of Law: 5 / 16 (-1)
The judiciary is nominally independent but is highly corrupt and subject to external influence. Corruption in the judiciary led to trial delays and extended pretrial detention in 2013. Courts are inefficient, and 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.
Paraguay is the regional hub for money-laundering, drug-trafficking, and organized crime. After a six-year lull, the EPP—an armed leftist guerilla group—renewed its campaign of kidnapping, extortion, and bombing attacks in 2012, continuing into 2013. EPP interests conflict with local farming, and the EPP was suspected in the May murder of a well-known cattle rancher and former mayor.
Another worrisome trend was Brazilian criminal organizations located in Paraguay with the aim of exerting greater control of the drug trade. 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. These gangs also took advantage of Paraguay’s harsh geography. The “Red Command,” a Brazilian drug-trafficking organization, reportedly exported one ton of cocaine monthly from Paraguay to Brazil in 2013. The EPP has also developed a closer connection with the drug trade.
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.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16
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. A 2013 U.S. Department of Labor report on Paraguay commended the Paraguayan government’s advancements in combatting the worst forms of child labor, but lamented that children continue to work hazardous jobs in agriculture and domestic service. An estimated 450,000 minors work in Paraguay, according to a 2013 government report.
Same-sex sexual activity is legal, but Paraguay has a constitutional ban against recognition of same-sex relationships. President Cartes was criticized for remarks against human rights for the LGBT community during the election campaign.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year