Last Updated: Monday, 28 July 2014, 16:37 GMT

Countries at the Crossroads 2007 - Paraguay

Publisher Freedom House
Author Peter Lambert
Publication Date 25 September 2007
Cite as Freedom House, Countries at the Crossroads 2007 - Paraguay, 25 September 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4738692864.html [accessed 30 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)

Introduction

In 2007 the Colorado Party celebrates 60 years in power, having successfully negotiated periods of political instability, civil war, dictatorship, and democratic transition. Since the end of the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner in 1989, the Colorado Party has won all four presidential elections, despite administrations repeatedly characterized by economic mismanagement and inefficiency, rampant corruption, and almost constant inter-factional power struggles within the party. Indeed, to a great extent, established political and bureaucratic elites in the Colorado Party have successfully defended their privileges in the new democratic environment and controlled many aspects of the (unconsolidated) transition.

Overall, progress has been slow in the strengthening of political institutions, participation, and representation, as well as the implementation of rule of law. The opposition remains divided and ineffectual, unable to unite and seriously challenge Colorado hegemony, while significant sections of the population remain broadly skeptical about democracy as a political system. The possibility of elections bringing authoritarian or populist politicians to power remains high, as witnessed by the continued support for ex-general Lino Oviedo, imprisoned since 2004 on charges relating to his failed 1996 coup attempt.

Central to the growing sense of disillusionment with the performance of democracy has been the lack of socioeconomic progress. Despite improvements over the past three years, Paraguay ranks behind only Bolivia in South America in terms of human development and suffers from low coverage of basic healthcare, education, and sanitation. Paraguay is one of the most unequal countries in the continent in terms of land and income distribution, with a GINI Index rating of 57.8.1 It is also one of the poorest, with a per capita income of just $1,280 – significantly below the poverty line. According to government figures, 38.2 percent of the population lives in poverty and 15.5 percent live in extreme poverty.2 This is exacerbated by combined unemployment and underemployment affecting 37.9 percent of Paraguayans; furthermore, an estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of workers do not even receive the minimum wage of approximately $180 per month.3 Despite a reduction in poverty levels since 2003, years of underinvestment in social spending make it unlikely Paraguay will meet the 2015 target for achieving its Millennium Development Goals.

Faced with these challenges, President Nicanor Duarte Frutos promised economic recovery, anticorruption measures, and increased social spending when he came to power in 2003. Following years of stagnation and recession, in the past three and a half years the government has avoided the widely predicted economic collapse and overseen macroeconomic recovery. It has attacked corruption and inefficiency in public management and increased targeted social spending, correctly identifying these as the key governance issues. Nevertheless, progress has been limited by opposition in Congress as well as by powerful vested interests, mainly from within the Colorado Party. Crucially, in May 2005 the Minister of Finance, Dionisio Borda, widely seen as the key figure behind progressive, democratic reforms in the first two years of the administration, resigned. His departure reflected the strength of conservative pressures within the ruling party and was seen as a significant blow to the administration's reform efforts.

Accountability and Public Voice – 4.29

Free and fair electoral laws and elections: 3.75
Effective and accountable government: 3.25
Civic engagement and civic monitoring: 5.67
Media independence and freedom of expression: 4.50

Although in principle democratic institutions and procedures provide ample possibility for the effective rotation of power among different political parties, in practice the Colorado Party has won all four presidential elections since 1989.4 Despite electoral irregularities in some polling stations and accusations of misuse of state assets in electoral campaigns, however, there have been no reports of systematic nationwide irregularities, and elections have been broadly free and fair, especially following the partial introduction of electronic voting since 2003. Due to its powerful electoral machinery and deep clientelistic networks in rural areas, the Colorado Party has maintained tight control of government and the state and has used limited power-sharing effectively in recent years (1995, 1999-2003 and 2005) to pass key legislation. This lack of effective opposition reflects the weakness of a party system that is characterized by clientelism, working practices designed to capture votes rather than articulate or channel social interests, and a lack of ideological differentiation between parties. There is a widespread perception of political corruption within Congress, with buying and selling of votes seen as commonplace.5

The political system in general is subject to low levels of confidence and legitimacy in Paraguay, as evidenced not only by low levels of electoral participation, but also by an apparent decline in citizen support for democracy. According to the 2005 Latinobarómetro Report, Paraguayans, when compared with other Latin Americans, offer the least opposition to the acceptability of military rule (just 31 percent compared with the Latin American average of 62 percent), the least support for democracy (just 32 percent compared with a Latin American average of 53 percent), and a level of satisfaction with the performance of democracy of just 17 percent.6 Further disillusionment is perhaps reflected in signs of increasing support for ex-President Stroessner (before his death in August 2006) in the form of demonstrations to celebrate his birthday, opinion polls rating him as the most popular president since 1950, and the rise of a powerful neo-stronista faction within the ruling Colorado Party.7

In November 2005, President Duarte announced his intention to run for the Colorado Party presidency, in apparent violation of the constitution, the electoral code, and the party statute, all of which prohibit the president from holding any other professional post. Following an ambiguous ruling by the Superior Tribunal of Electoral Justice (TSJE) in January 2006 that he could stand but not hold the party presidency, in February 2006 Duarte won the internal Colorado Party elections with 63.4 percent of the vote. The Supreme Court then upheld his right to hold both posts, prompting political uproar and large-scale public demonstrations against both Duarte and what was seen as a politicized Supreme Court. Under increasing pressure, Duarte was inaugurated as party president and then immediately ceded the post to party vice president José Alberto Alderete.

Meanwhile, the president continued to push for constitutional reform to strengthen executive powers and allow for presidential reelection. His case was bolstered, at least in his own eyes, by the victory of the Colorado Party in the municipal elections in November 2006, which Duarte saw as a public endorsement both of his administration and of his plans for constitutional reform. With the opposition failing to put forward joint candidates in many municipalities, the Colorado Party won around 50 percent of the vote and 150 out of 231 municipalities, including the capital, Asunción, where Evanhy de Gallegos became the first female mayor. Immediately following the results, the Colorado Party announced it would formally push for an amendment of Article 229 of the constitution to allow for Duarte's re-election. However, the president faces an uphill struggle. Even if he were to secure a majority in Congress and the Senate – the latter of which is unlikely – he would then need to win a popular referendum – a difficult challenge given that according to polls in December 2006, his plans for constitutional reform have the support of just 31 percent of the population.8 While the need for constitutional reform – in order to prevent the opposition in Congress from repeatedly blocking crucial initiatives (such as banking reform, civil service reform, and tax reform) for sectarian reasons – is widely recognized, there is a fear that it could be used inappropriately to alter the balance of power between executive, legislature, and judiciary in favor of the former, reducing the ability of the other two to act as an effective check on excessive executive power.

Despite continued pressure from such groups as Transparency Paraguay, no reform of legislation on party campaign financing has taken place. With state funding for party campaigns limited and based on previous election results, the bulk of party finances are private. However, as parties are not required to reveal their funding sources and few effective checks and balances are in place, there is a lack of transparency and clarity regarding the origins and uses of funds. This, added to the widespread practice of awarding congressional seats (through allocation of high positions on party electoral lists) in exchange for personal contributions to electoral campaigns, has allowed privileged interest groups direct access to political power and influence. Moreover, due to a lack of transparent accountancy, misuse of public funds and state resources for electoral campaigns is common among all parties, especially the ruling Colorado Party, which maintains an extensive (and expensive) clientelistic network as its electoral base.

Although the 1996 electoral code requires a 20 percent minimum of female candidates on electoral lists, the Colorado Party (2005) and the opposition PLRA (2006) have both increased their minimum to 33 percent.9 However, no party has adopted a system of alternate gender listing in order to counter the common practice of placing male candidates higher up on the party electoral lists. Although there are no legal impediments to their participation, women are significantly underrepresented in public political life, especially at senior levels. There are just 8 female deputies (out of 80), 6 senators (out of 45), 1 departmental governor (out of 17), and 1 female member of the Supreme Court of Justice (out of 9). Of the 3 female cabinet members in 2003, only 1 remains (in Education and Culture), although Mónica Pérez was named new head of the Central Bank of Paraguay in 2005. There are no indigenous people in high office.

The state sector remains highly politicized and is closely tied to the ruling Colorado Party, representing a vital source of its electoral support. Appointments and promotions are frequently made on the basis of political allegiance, and in elections since 1989 political harassment of personnel opposed to ruling party candidates has been reported. The sector is also characterized by high levels of institutionalized corruption, extreme informality, lack of institutionalization, and low levels of efficiency and effectiveness, as well as a notable lack of transparency.10 Crucial civil service reform – in the form of Law 1626 passed in December 2000 to introduce new transparent, merit-based systems for civil service selection and promotion – remains suspended in the Supreme Court, demonstrating the endurance of a clientelistic political culture. Efforts by President Duarte to reform the state sector have met with some success (see Anticorruption and Transparency) but have often been blocked by vested political interests, generally within the Colorado Party.

Despite entering the transition weak and fragmented, Paraguay's civil society has seen significant growth since 1989. This is especially true of NGOs, which are free to operate without undue government interference and have played 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.11 Groups representing more powerful – especially landowning – sectors, such as the Asociación Rural del Paraguay, enjoy significant political influence and leverage.

Freedom of the press and media is guaranteed by the constitution and generally upheld by the state. The government does not attempt to influence media content through illegal methods (such as bribery), nor does it fund specific media outlets for propaganda purposes. However, press freedom is threatened by two constraints. First, the constitutional requirements that reporting be "accurate, responsible and even-handed" (Article 28) and that expression not "exceed the bounds of acceptable criticism" (Article 151) mean that the (politically motivated) threat or use of defamation and libel laws is often applied to intimidate and silence journalists and media outlets. In a notorious, but by no means isolated case in 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the criminal defamation conviction and a fine of $200,000 against Aldo Zucolillo, director of ABC Color, a paper renowned for its role in the struggle for democracy, brought by a senator from the Colorado Party. Zucolillo currently faces 18 lawsuits over articles his paper has published on corruption and abuse of power.

Second, journalists who undertake political investigations, especially into corruption and drug trafficking, continue to risk intimidation, threats, and violence and receive minimal police protection. In February 2006 journalist Enrique Galeano disappeared following his investigations into drug and arms smuggling in Concepción, northern Paraguay. Despite accusations that prominent local authorities, including the police and Colorado Party representatives, were implicated, as well as national pressure for a public inquiry, nobody was prosecuted and the case was closed.

Recommendations

  • Reform of party financing is required, to include greater monitoring of public and private funding of political parties, tighter controls on misuse of state funds, and greater transparency in terms of party expenditure and accounts.
  • Political parties should adopt rules requiring gender alternation on party lists in order to fulfill their commitment to increasing women's presence in the government.
  • The state should ensure that defamation cases do not hamper the full enjoyment of freedom of speech or lead to censorship. Moreover, the state should reconsider Article 28 of the constitution with a view to prevent pre-emptive or punitive political libel suits against journalists.
  • A thorough state reform program, in the form of or based on Law 1626, needs to be implemented in order to introduce merit-based systems of appointment and promotion throughout the state sector.

Civil Liberties – 4.03

Protection from state terror, unjustified imprisonment, and torture: 2.57
Gender equity: 4.00
Rights of ethnic, religious, and other distinct groups: 3.00
Freedom of conscience and belief: 6.00
Freedom of association and assembly: 4.60

Although torture is specifically prohibited under the constitution and penal code, numerous examples of police abuse committed in order to punish, intimidate, or gain confessions have been compiled by the Attorney General's Office. Furthermore, following a visit in November 2006, UN human rights expert and Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak reported that torture is still widely used in police custody and called for the practice to be fully criminalized, measures put in place to prevent it, and all perpetrators to be prosecuted.12 The establishment of a Special Human Rights Unit within the Office of the State Prosecutor in 2005 was widely seen as an important step forward. However, there have still been no convictions for torture since the criminal code entered into force in 1999, reflecting high levels of impunity and ineffective systems for investigation, protection, and redress. The continuation of torture, despite pressure from international organizations ranging from Amnesty International to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, is due to a number of factors, including the failure of the state to widen the definition of torture in the criminal code to comply with Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture so that the practice be fully criminalized.

Following widespread criticism of prison conditions, three independent, inter-institutional commissions have been set up since 2004 in compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Comprising representatives from human rights NGOs, diplomatic personnel, unions, and the Senate Human Rights Commission, these commissions carry out unannounced inspections of Paraguay's prisons. Their reports severely criticized appalling conditions, which include: severe overcrowding (for example, the country's largest prison, Tacumbú, holds 3,166 inmates although its capacity is just 1,50013); inadequate basic health, medical, and sanitation facilities; rampant corruption; mistreatment of prisoners, including torture; neglect of prisoners suffering from mental health problems; failure to separate juveniles from adults, men from women, condemned from those awaiting trial, and serious from minor offenders; and lack of adequate staffing, with an average of just one guard for every 80 inmates.14 The government has authorized new prison facilities, but overall the prison system remains desperately underfunded. A further key contributory factor is that prisoners do not in practice have the right to a swift trial. Pretrial detention accounts for, 75 percent of inmates, and it is common practice to release prisoners before trial on the basis that they have already completed the minimum sentence for their alleged crime.15

There are no political prisoners in Paraguay, and the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and guarantees habeas corpus. Although in theory the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, detentions without corresponding judicial orders or other requirements established under law are common, with those arrested often held in detention for excessive periods. Although the accused have the right to a defense lawyer at public expense, the state lacks the resources to provide counsel for many poor defendants, who often go to trial with no legal representation. Past abuses of human rights, however, are being dealt with more effectively. The combined efforts of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo), established in 2001, and the nonpartisan Truth and Justice Commission, set up in 2004 to investigate abuses committed under the Stroessner dictatorship, have so far resulted in 1,069 victims of torture being awarded compensation totaling approximately $14 million, with many outstanding cases still to be compensated.16

Following widespread criticism of the armed forces for enforced conscription of minors and mistreatment of conscripts, the Duarte administration established a human rights office within the military with the aim of reviewing procedures, holding unannounced inspections, and investigating and reporting on conditions and abuses. The office also has a remit to help NGOs investigate illegal recruitment and abuse. However, both practices continue, and no prosecutions have yet been brought.17

The government has also been criticized for tolerating excessive use of force by the police and army when they are dealing with demonstrations, especially by landless peasants. Other forms of peasant protest, such as roadblocks and land occupations, have been subjected to particularly excessive responses either directly by state security forces, or – more commonly – by private security forces organized by landowners. The state has consistently failed to intervene to protect against such abuse and shown little interest in pursuing those guilty of perpetrating such violence.

In October 2005, Paraguay presented its 2nd Periodic Report on Human Rights to the UN Human Rights Committee.18 Despite some areas of limited praise, the committee criticized the insufficient mechanisms for judicial protection, compensation, and remedy against discrimination for disadvantaged groups, including children, women, indigenous people, and people with disabilities.

Overall, significant progress has been made in creating a more favorable legal framework for gender equality since 1989, in great part due to an active women's movement that has pushed for progressive legal reform. Paraguay has ratified all international conventions protecting women's rights and introduced an array of posts and programs, including the highly effective Secretariat for Women's Affairs, which promotes gender equality in public policy.

However, despite institutional and legal advances, four factors illustrate the many structural obstacles facing women. First, sexual and domestic violence remain widespread, with insufficient mechanisms for protection of victims or prosecution. According to the Secretariat for Women's Affairs, reports of violence against women increased from 426 in 2000 to 2,036 in 2005.19 Although domestic violence is a criminal offense, it must be habitual before being seen as such and is then only punishable by a fine. Second, discrimination in the workplace means women suffer lower pay, poorer training opportunities, and fewer chances for promotion. This is especially the case in the unregulated informal sector, which accounts for over 40 percent of the workforce, and within that, domestic service, a sector in which approximately 25 percent of the female workforce is employed.20 There has been no revision of the norms that govern the conditions and rights in this area. Third, Paraguay suffers from high rates of maternal mortality, especially in rural areas, related to a lack of adequate healthcare and, according to women's groups, the continued penalization of abortion (dating from 1910), which leads to unsafe, illegal abortions at potential risk of life and health. Fourth, anecdotal evidence suggests that hundreds of women are trafficked abroad annually for sexual exploitation, especially through the Tri-Border Area, the notoriously lawless zone between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Despite the establishment in 2005 of a new office to deal with trafficking in this region, support for victims remains virtually nonexistent, while law enforcement agencies remain underfunded and convictions of traffickers rare.

Equal opportunity for people with disabilities is guaranteed under the constitution, which also stipulates that the state must provide disabled people with healthcare, education, and professional training. However, in practice, the absence of appropriate legislation means disabled people are not provided for and face significant discrimination in terms of public attitudes and access to the labor market, public transport, and public and private buildings.21 Nor are government services and decisions made available in formats accessible to disabled people. The appalling conditions (lack of adequate sanitary facilities, lack of trained staff, and lack of adequate nutrition), suffered by the 460 residents of the Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Asunción, which became headlines in 2006, underline the depth of discrimination.

Indigenous people (approximately 1.7 percent of the population) have the lowest indicators in terms of social development of any sector in Paraguayan society and suffer from extreme poverty, marginalization, and exclusion. Favorable legal and constitutional protection is routinely circumvented or ignored and masks continued neglect by the state and a lack of judicial and police protection. This was highlighted by two recent rulings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In 2005 the court found in favor of the Yaskye Axa community, while in March 2006 it found in favor of the Sawhoyamaxa community – in both cases for displacement of communities from ancestral lands. In the case of the latter, the court ordered the return of lands with compensation and also emphasized that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure full equality in land, education, health, and judicial protection. In August 2006 the government paid US $12,000 of the US $18,000 the court had ordered in compensation.22

Indigenous people are largely excluded from political and economic participation due to a lack of adequate access to land, financial resources, and basic social services such as education and healthcare; additionally, they have no high-level political representation. In terms of work, they suffer routine violations of basic labor rights and protection, reflected in extremely low or nonexistent pay and unacceptable working conditions, especially in the Chaco region. Discrimination and inequality are deeply embedded and 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; child malnutrition is 13.7 percent nationally but 41 percent among indigenous children; 58 percent of the population nationally have access to safe drinking water but only 2.5 percent of indigenous people; and primary school completion is 70 percent nationally but less than 20 percent among indigenous children.23

Freedom of religion is respected both in the constitution and in practice, with no undue state interference or restrictions. The Catholic Church freely criticizes the government, especially over issues of poverty, corruption, and inequality.

Although freedom of assembly is generally recognized, there are several restrictions. For example, in Asunción demonstrations are restricted to certain times and places, while nationally there are limits on time, place, and nature of protest (for example road closure is prohibited), and demonstrations require prior police authorization. Such restrictions have been criticized as "neither reasonable nor necessary in a democratic society, have no legitimate objective, and are not motivated by pressing social need."24 Those who violate them in peaceful acts of civil disobedience, however, are subject to criminal prosecution.

Freedom of association is generally respected, including the right to form and join trade unions, in both the public and private sectors (with the exception of the armed forces and the police), and citizens are not compelled to belong to any association. Despite constitutional protection, union activity remains inadequately guaranteed by the state, and violations of international labor standards, such as harassment and firing of union organizers, the establishment of competing company unions, and violations of collective agreements and contracts, are common. Fear of reprisal and economic insecurity contribute to the weakness of the union movement, which includes only 6.4 percent of the workforce.25

Recommendations

  • A reform of the prison system needs to be introduced and should include an increased budget to permit improvements in infrastructure, facilities, and conditions to comply with constitutional and legal requirements.
  • The efficiency of the judicial system needs to be improved in order to reduce the excessive proportion of prisoners held in extended preventive, pretrial detention. For minor offences, prosecutors and judges should set firm court dates within the prescribed legal period or free accused criminals at nominal bail.
  • The police need appropriate training in 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 criminal code needs to be amended to classify torture in full accordance with Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture and permit full implementation of its procedures regarding investigation, prosecution, punishment, and compensation.
  • The state needs to be proactive in the protection of constitutional and international human rights of indigenous people, with particular emphasis on stronger legal protection of ancestral lands, greater access to basic social welfare services, and protection from labor and other exploitation.
  • Legislation needs to be passed to modify Law 1066/97, which regulates the right of public assembly, in order to guarantee full rights to peaceful demonstration.

Rule of Law – 3.32

Independent judiciary: 3.00
Primacy of rule of law in civil and criminal matters: 3.67
Accountability of security forces and military to civilian authorities: 3.25
Protection of property rights: 3.67
Equal treatment under the law: 3.00

There is still no objective public system for selection and designation of judges, district attorneys, and prosecutors to ensure that selection and promotion are based on merit. Instead, the judiciary continues to be subject to a high level of party political interference, which undermines the integrity of the system of checks and balances and the independence of the sector. Members of the Supreme Court of Justice, the High Court of Electoral Justice, and the Council of the Judiciary – as well as others lower down in the judiciary – are all designated on the basis of agreements between political parties, in accordance with the number of congressional seats held. Hence appointments are made on grounds of political service, allegiance, and loyalty rather than merit and expertise, experience, or qualifications, raising serious doubts about the impartiality and independence of the judicial system from political pressures.26 Although rulings may occasionally go against the government (with which the government will comply) the Supreme Court is ultimately a political body, with loyalties weighted towards the Colorado Party.

Despite internationally funded reform projects, the judiciary is widely seen as inefficient, corrupt, insufficiently funded, and unable either to combat corruption and impunity or to protect citizens' (especially poor citizens') rights. Local judges and prosecutors often have not received adequate training and are subject to undue pressures from local economic and political elites who seek to block or delay investigations or influence individual judges. The overloaded and underfunded system is simply unable to deal with the enormous backlog of cases; indeed, long-running cases are routinely dropped after four years (except for those involving human rights abuses committed by state actors during the dictatorship). The law grants access to independent counsel but in practice the government lacks resources to provide it to the vast majority of defendants. Although some progress has been made over the past few years, there are still only 148 public defenders in the country, with the result that most Paraguayans are forced to rely on private finance, thus limiting adequate defense to those who have the necessary assets.

The reform of the Supreme Court by President Duarte in 2003 epitomized the problems facing the judicial system. Given the court's reputation for institutional corruption, the president's actions received widespread support. Resulting negotiations between political parties over replacement members, however, revealed the level of politicization of the process. Some of the court's subsequent decisions, such as upholding President Duarte's right to run for the presidency of the Colorado Party in early 2006, also were seen as reflecting the high level of politicization of the Court – and the judiciary as a whole. Two further cases in 2006 reflect the ambiguity of progress. First, advances were illustrated when Heriberto Galeano, commander of the Presidential Guard and personal friend of President Duarte, was retired from his post and later arrested for illicit enrichment. In contrast to this success, efforts to prosecute the president of Congress, Víctor Bogado, for the same crime were blocked by the Colorado Party in Congress on the grounds of congressional immunity.27 Both cases were brought by Arnaldo Guizzio, the widely respected anticorruption state prosecutor. As a result, the Supreme Court came under intense (but eventually unsuccessful) pressure from Colorado Party interests to refuse the renewal of Guizzio's appointment in December 2006, provoking a public outcry over political intervention in judicial affairs.

The police are inadequately funded and staffed and poorly trained in all aspects of their work, from public order to investigative procedure. Such is the inefficiency of the police that it is common for those who can afford the cost to employ private investigators to pursue criminal investigations. The police are also widely perceived as institutionally corrupt. There is evidence of continued police involvement in crime and links to local and national mafias, and police enjoy a high level of impunity in terms of corruption, excessive use of violence, and abuse of human rights. Reform of the national police has mainly focused on equipment improvements, although the new administration has promised to implement measures to professionalize the organization.

Following their central role in the dictatorship, there has been a noticeable depoliticization of the military in the past decade. Despite three bouts of political instability involving sectors of the armed forces in 1996, 1999, and 2001, the military no longer plays an overt role in politics. Troops have routinely been used in quelling disturbances of public order, especially in recent land disputes and occupations, but overall the military appears to be firmly under civilian control. However, this does not mean that it is accountable to the public: impunity is still widely seen as characteristic of the armed forces, and there have been no prosecutions of members of the armed forces for human rights abuses during the dictatorship. Nor is the military free from political interference. In November 2006, President Duarte agreed to opposition demands to retire the head of the armed forces, General José Key Kanawaza, and 12 other military commanders, as part of a political deal, despite the fact that the professional conduct of those retired was not in question.

The state's monopoly on the use of force is not constant throughout the country, especially in areas in the eastern border region next to Brazil. This is complicated by the growing Brazilian population in the region, as well as the presence of trafficking in contraband, arms, and drugs. However, despite U.S. fears of the Tri-Border Area being used as a base for international terrorism, investigations by representatives from Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and the US led to a joint declaration in December 2006 that "no terrorism activities" had been detected.28

Property rights are a contentious issue in a country that is renowned for its inequality of land ownership: 30 percent of peasants are landless, while just 10 percent of the population owns 66 percent of the land.29 Conflict erupted in 2004-05, with nationwide marches, road closures, demonstrations, and land occupations by organized peasants as they attempted to force the government to address the lack of land reform. The occupations led to violent conflicts between peasants and both public and (increasingly) private security forces, and peasants were subject to threats, violence, and unlawful arrest by police and local judges. In 2006 there were eight politically motivated killings of peasant activists, none of which have yet led to convictions.30 In one incident in Caaguazú in June 2006, two peasants were shot dead and five injured when paramilitary forces, acting with the apparent complicity of the police, opened fire on land occupiers.31 Despite the conflict, and government promises, there has been little advance in terms of land reform, and the underlying problems of vast inequalities in land ownership and distribution as well as high levels of landlessness remain unaddressed and unresolved.

Perhaps most worrying has been the emergence of Citizen Security Committees, armed groups often created by powerful local (often landowning) interests, which are tolerated and even encouraged by the authorities. Complaints against these groups related to threats, torture, harassment, illegal arrest, and extrajudicial killings led Senator José Nicolás Morínigo, president of the Senate Human Rights Commission of the, to present a bill in mid-2006 to prohibit civil organizations that aim to maintain public order. As of March 2007, the bill remains before parliament.

In eastern Paraguay, indigenous communities have frequently complained of non-recognition of land titles as well as illegal, often violent, expropriation of traditional lands by private individuals, groups, and companies – usually for intensive agricultural production (such as soya). As the IACHR found in 2006, the state is failing to provide adequate protection of indigenous territory or to protect communities from uncontrolled and increasing deforestation and ecological degradation. In practice, there are insufficient police or legal safeguards to protect indigenous land from illegal occupations, and almost half of all communities have no definite, legal assurance of land ownership. INDI, the state assistance body, is currently in a state of near collapse due to the failure of the congress to allocate full funds for the sixth consecutive year.32

Recommendations

  • Professionalization of the judiciary should include special provisions for the implementation of an objective, transparent, merit-based system for selection, designation, and promotion of judges, district attorneys, and prosecutors. An appropriate system of penalties for misconduct and the prohibition of political influence on the judiciary at all levels is needed.
  • Greater resources are needed to improve the role and accessibility of public defenders and to provide training to improve police investigative capacity.
  • To combat impunity, a clear judicial complaints system needs to be established, to include guarantees of anonymity and protection for the plaintiff, transparency of investigation, and a set framework of investigative and disciplinary procedures.
  • The state should pass legislation to prohibit Citizen Security Committees, as well as all other non-state armed groups, and act to dissolve and disarm all such groups immediately.
  • 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.

Anticorruption and Transparency – 3.33

Environment to protect against corruption: 2.80
Existence of laws and ethical standards between private and public sectors: 3.75
Enforcement of anticorruption laws: 3.50
Governmental transparency: 3.29

When the dictatorship collapsed in 1989, Paraguay was already notorious for endemic, systemic corruption. However, it is widely believed that corruption has actually increased during the transition, pervading all levels of society and reaching the highest levels of government. Currently, two of the country's four democratic ex-presidents (Raúl Cubas Grau and Luis Ángel González Macchi) are serving prison sentences for illicit enrichment, while one (Juan Carlos Wasmosy) is still under investigation and facing criminal proceedings; the fourth (Andrés Rodríguez) only escaped prosecution through his death in 1997.

Despite international pressure, principally from the United States, to enforce measures to combat narcotics, money laundering, trafficking in people, contraband and infringements of intellectual property rights, Paraguay remains a major regional centre and conduit for narcotics and arms smuggling, contraband, money laundering, counterfeit and pirated goods from East Asia. This reflects a range of problems from weak implementation of laws and international agreements to pervasive and institutionalized corruption in law enforcement agencies. Despite international pressure, there is still no centralized, freely operating unit focusing on corruption, such as an anticorruption ombudsman.

The public sector is characterized by a lack of real controls and oversight as well as the overlapping of authority and functions, and remains institutionally and structurally corrupt. Efforts since 2000 to reduce excessive, loss-making state involvement in the economy through privatization have failed due to the lack of procedural transparency and the scale of corruption and inefficiency involved in the few completed transfers to the private sector. Indeed, under intense civil pressure, Duarte announced in June 2005 that the government would not pursue privatization of Paraguay's oil and cement companies, specifically due to public concern over corruption. The lack of transparency with respect to those officials responsible for state assets, and even administration and distribution of foreign aid and loans, is exacerbated by poor internal auditing systems that are often subject to corruption. There is no effective legislation providing for public financial disclosure by government personnel or appropriate ethical standards to separate public and personal interests. Moreover, boundaries to prevent conflicts of interests in the private sector are lacking. Corruption severely affects the general population in its dealings with the state sector; according to Transparency Paraguay, the total cost to civilians of routine administrative bribery in dealings with state representatives (police, ministries, civil service) in 2005 was approximately $30 million.33

Despite media investigations of corruption, the effectiveness of prosecutions is severely hindered by the inefficiency and corruption within the judiciary and the police, as well as the fear that many citizens have in coming forward as witnesses or plaintiffs. In addition to the case of the journalist Enrique Galeano (see Accountability and Public Voice), the 2005 kidnapping and subsequent murder of Cecilia Cubas, daughter of the former president, revealed high levels of corruption in both the police and the public prosecutions office, leading President Duarte to sack the minister of the interior, Nelson Mora, and 30 senior police officers.

Supported by the international community, the Duarte administration has, however, made anticorruption policy a central pillar of its efforts to introduce good governance. Anticorruption measures focused initially on creating an island of integrity in the Ministry of Finance, which under Dionisio Borda (2003-2005) made significant advances in reducing corruption and increasing public transparency and accountability, especially in terms of internal auditing and prevention of tax evasion, previously running at an estimated 70 percent.34 Likewise, customs underwent thorough internal reform, with the introduction of a merit-based appointment and promotion system designed to end its previous politicization, corruption, and lack of efficiency. Again, this led to significant improvements in income generation.

Crucially, an Office of Public Procurement was established within the Ministry of Finance,35 alongside external auditing of all public enterprises, to ensure that all 301 state institutions adhere to new strict regulations on planning and transparency (including all tendering, bidding, and adjudication). This led to an estimated 30 percent savings on the annual government procurement bill.36 Overall, primarily as a result of anticorruption measures, tax revenues increased by 74 percent between 2003 and 2006,37 while overall government income increased by 122 percent in the same period.38 Reflecting the progress made in the past three years, Paraguay's ranking in the TI CPI has risen from 129th out of 133 countries, with a score of just 1.6 in 2003, to 111th out of 160 countries, with a score of 2.6 in 2006.39

Access to information in practice remains extremely difficult, despite pressures for the introduction of a freedom of information law from a joint body of NGOs established in 2004. Proper legislative review of the budgetary process, which receives wide media coverage, and the publication of detailed statistical information on websites by a number of government ministries do reflect some progress in increasing internal transparency and access to information, in line with continued government promises.

For the first time, Paraguay has a government in power that has committed itself to implementing a serious program to combat corruption by focusing on state reform, modernization, improved tax accountability, and greater transparency. Furthermore, the creation of a Citizens' Anticorruption Observatory in 2006, comprising 10 NGOs, as well as the growing profile of Transparency Paraguay, reflect greater organization within civil society. However, this struggle necessarily challenges the interests of established elites, especially within the Colorado Party, who have become wealthier through illicit enrichment during the transition.40 It is widely believed that the resignation of Finance Minister Dionisio Borda in 2005 was due to pressures from within the ruling party to oust a minister who threatened not only the financial interests of elites but also the Colorado Party's clientelistic base within the state sector. Given the scale and deeply embedded, pervasive nature of corruption, further reform will be a task that is not only difficult and dangerous, involving taking on powerful mafias that allegedly exercise a considerable degree of influence over the legislature and the judiciary, but also one that could threaten a crucial bastion of Colorado Party electoral and political dominance.

Recommendations

  • 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.
  • All government agencies should 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.
  • As a basic tool to strengthen democracy, a bill should be introduced to strengthen, regulate, and protect in practice and under law the right to information, while establishing hierarchies of accessible and responsible personnel to ease bureaucratic complexities.
  • 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.

Author

Peter Lambert is a Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies at the University of Bath, UK. He has written extensively on different aspects of Paraguayan politics.

Notes

1 United Nations Human Development Report 2006 (New York: United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2006), http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/statistics/indicators/147.html.

2 Principales Resultados de la Encuesta Permanente de Hogares: Empleo y Pobreza : Dirección General de Estadística, Encuestas y Censos [DGEEC], Asunción, 2006), 13, http://www.dgeec.gov.py/publicaciones/biblioteca/
presentacion_empleo2005/boletin_empleo_y_pobreza_2005.pdf.

3 Ibid. 3.

4 The only national election the Colorado Party has lost was the extraordinary vice-presidential election in 2000, when PLRA candidate Julio César Franco, supported by the dissident Colorado faction PUNACE, narrowly defeated the Colorado Party candidate.

5 Paraguay Country Profile (London: Economist Intelligence Unit [EIU], 2006), 8.

6 Latinobarómetro Report (Santiago Chile: Corporación Latinobarómetro, 2006), 51, 56, 58 respectively, http://www.latinobarometro.org/uploads/media/2005_02.pdf.

7 Latin American Weekly Report (LAWR), 8 November 2005,8.

8 LAWR, 12 December 2006, 9.

9 The Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (Authentic Radical Liberal Party) has been the main opposition party since the transition began in 1989.

10 R.A. Nickson, "Reformando el Estado en Paraguay" in Estado, Economía y Sociedad: Una Mirada Internacional a la Democracia Paraguaya (Asunción: Centro de Analisis y Difusion de Economia Paraguaya [CADEP], 2005), 41-72.

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

12 "Special Rapporteur on Torture Ends Mission to Paraguay" (New York: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR], press release, 29 November 2006), www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/
509BA4239456B976C12572350077E647?opendocument.

13 "Situación Penitenciaria," in Informe Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 2006 (Asunción, Paraguay: Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay [CODEHUPY]; Litocolor; Instituto de Estudios Comparados de Ciencias Penales y Sociales [INECIP], 2006), 52.

14 Ibid., 53.

15 Based on figures from the General Prison Supervisor's Office of the Supreme Court (INECIP, October 2006), 59.

16 Pagos a Víctimas de la Dictadura (Asuncion: Office of the Presidency of the Republic, 5 December 2006), http://www.presidencia.gov.py/visitas_pdf/Victimas%20de%20la%20Dictadura.pdf.

17 Report 2005: Paraguay (London: Amnesty International [AI], http://web.amnesty.org/report2005/pry-summary-eng.

18 Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Paraguay (New York and Geneva: United Nations Human Rights Committee, 24 April 2006), www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(symbol)/CCPR.C.PRY.CO.2.En?opendocument.

19 M. González Vera and V. Villalba, "Un estado que desatiende los derechos de las mujeres" in CODEHUPY (2006), 106.

20 Ibid., 114.

21 C. Pacheco and M. Horvath, "La Situación de las Personas con Discapacidad en las Políticas Sociales Nacionales," in Informe Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 2004 (Asunción, Paraguay: CODEHUPY; Litocolor, 2004), 147-151.

22 O. Ayala and O. and M.J. Cabello, "Entre la realidad y los avances de la justicia internacional," in CODEHUPY (2006), 364.

23 Figures from Draft Country Programme Document: Paraguay (New York: UNICEF, 2006), 3, http://www.unicef.org/about/execboard/files/06-pl50_Paraguay_Rev1(1).pdf.

24 Informe Alternativo de CODEHUPY al Segundo Informe Periódico del Estado de Paraguayo (CODEHUPY, 2005), 14, www.omct.org/pdf/procedures/2005/85th_hr_commission/ngo_reports/
hrc85_paraguay_informe_alt.pdf.

25 R. Villalba, "El Movimiento Sindical: aun mucho por resolver," in CODEHUPY (2004), 202.

26 L.E. Escobar Faella, "Estalla la crisis del sistema del Justicia" in CODEHUPY (2004), 61-70.

27 Bogado was accused of significant financial irregularities while he was president of CONATEL, the state telecommunications company, between 2002 and 2003.

28 LAWR, 12 December 2006, 16.

29 LAWR, 26 July 2005, 7.

30 Q. Riquelme, "Otro año de reclamos sin soluciones de fondo" in CODEHUPY, (2006), 217.

31 Report 2006: Paraguay (AI), http://web.amnesty.org/report2006/pry-summary-eng.

32 Informe Alternativo, CODEHUPY (2005), 16.

33 Encuesta Nacional sobre Corrupción (Asunción: QR Producciones Gráficas; Transparencia Paraguay, 2005), 30.

34 Latin America Monitor: Southern Cone 19, 9 (September 2002): 7.

35 A law was passed in 2004 creating the Dirección General de Contrataciones Públicas, an office answerable to the Ministry of Finance, to promote and monitor transparency in procurement. All deals are now published on the website, as well as the conditions and results for all bidding processes. See www.contratacionesparaguay.gov.py.

36 Nickson, "Reformando el Estado en paraguay" (2005), 62.

37 Informe de Recaudaciones Tributarias, Octubre 2006 (Asuncion: Gabinete Técnico del Ministerio de Hacienda, 2006), 6, http://www.presidencia.gov.py/visitas_pdf/IngTrib102006.pdf.

38 Resultados de Reformas y Mejoras en la Gestión (Gabinete Técnico del Ministerio de Hacienda, 2006), 18, http://www.presidencia.gov.py/programas/resultdic06.pdf.

39 Corruption Perceptions Index (Berlin: Transparency International),
http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/global/cpi.

40 A. Miranda, Dossier-Paraguay: Los Dueños de Grandes Fortunas (Asunción: Mirando y Asociados, 2000).

Copyright notice: © Freedom House, Inc. · All Rights Reserved

Search Refworld

Countries