Capital: Asuncion
Population: 6,349,000

Political Rights Score: 3 *
Civil Liberties Score: 3 *
Status: Partly Free


Despite some progress on his social agenda, President Fernando Lugo continued to struggle in advancing reforms due to divisions within his Patriotic Alliance for Change coalition and an obstructive Congress. Meanwhile, corruption in the judiciary and conflict between landowners and peasants continued. A string of kidnappings and murders by the Paraguayan People's Army, a radical guerilla group, created yet another challenge for the government, as did the announcement in August that the president was battling lymphatic cancer.

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. González Macchi and many other members of the Colorado Party were 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 the 2003 national elections. After taking office, Duarte moved to take control of the tax, port, and customs authorities to combat tax evasion and smuggling. Tax evasion as well as prevalent corruption had deprived the state of about two-thirds of its legitimate revenues.

Fernando Lugo, leader of the Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC) coalition – a heterogeneous coalition comprising 20 parties including Christian Democrats, socialists, communists and peasant organizations – was elected president in April 2008. Lugo's election represented widespread disappointment in the Colorado Party and also raised expectations that the standard of living for Paraguay's poor majority would improve. Land reform necessary to address Paraguay's highly skewed land distribution remains one of the administration's principle goals. Tellingly, in the UN Development Programme's 2010 Human Development Report, Paraguay was ranked 96 out of 169 countries – worse than nearby Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil.

Prospects for Lugo's reforms were dealt a blow in July 2009 when the coalition's largest member party – the conservative Authentic Liberal Radical Party (PLRA) – dropped out of the alliance, leaving the Colorados, who strongly oppose Lugo's reformist agenda, in control of the legislature. Amid rumors of a pending military coup, Lugo replaced the heads of the army, navy, and air force in early November 2009. Less than a year later, Lugo dismissed those same individuals he had promoted in 2009, as well as five other senior officers. Nonetheless, Lugo managed to advance elements of his social agenda, including increasing access to public health services and extending an existing cash-transfer program.

Separately, the rise of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) – an armed leftist guerilla group – forced President Lugo to declare a state of emergency in half of the country for one month in April 2010. The administration mobilized almost 3,000 police and troops to combat the guerilla group, with little success. While the EPP has fewer than 100 members, the group has gained notoriety through high-profile kidnappings, drug smuggling, and alleged connections with the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia (FARC).

The Lugo administration signed an historical agreement with Brazil in July 2009 that settled a decades-long dispute over payments for energy produced by the Itaipu hydroelectric dam. The agreement is expected to triple Paraguay's income from the dam, but it had yet to be voted on by the Brazilian Congress at the end of 2010 due to strong pressure from manufacturing lobbies in Sao Paulo.

Lugo has maintained a conventional economic program. Supportive macroeconomic policies contributed to an economic rebound in 2010 following the previous year's drought. However, the Congress voted in November to postpone the introduction of a personal income tax until 2013, putting off any improvement in the Paraguayan government's extremely low tax take.

In November 7 local elections, the Colorado Party emerged as the victor in all of Paraguay's 238 municipalities, bolstering its prospects for the 2013 general election.

In August 2010, President Lugo announced that he was battling lymphatic cancer. Chemotherapy treatment in Brazil forced him to postpone overseas trips and limit appearances for the remainder of the year, contributing to calls for his resignation by some members of the opposition.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

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 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 has been unable to depoliticize Paraguay's corrupt Supreme Court. Paraguay was ranked 146 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, lagging behind all other countries in the Americas save 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 2010 as harassment of journalists continued. The government does not restrict use of the internet, 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 has generally failed to address or prevent retaliation by employers. Strikers and union leaders are often illegally dismissed and harassed by employers.

The judiciary is highly corrupt. Courts are inefficient and political interference in the judiciary is a serious problem, as politicians routinely pressure judges and block investigations. While the judiciary is nominally independent, more than 60 percent of judges are members of the Colorado party. 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. 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 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. A 2008 census estimated that 48 percent of the indigenous were unemployed and 88 percent lacked medical coverage. Peasant organizations sometimes occupy land illegally, and landowners often respond with death threats and forced evictions by hired vigilante groups. Violence between landless peasants and the predominantly Brazilian landowners practicing large-scale farming continued in 2010.

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 will not 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 and domestic servitude.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

This 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.