As many of you may be aware from press reports, Paraguay is undergoing a serious and prolonged political crisis which could lead to civil and military unrest and a human rights crisis. The purpose of this letter is to update Section Press Officers on the situation so you can be prepared for any media work we might need to do in the near future. The IS might organize a small media briefing prior to the presidential elections in May for journalists interested in Latin American issues. The slow process of democratic institution building, which began with the overthrow of the Stroessner regime in 1989, is now under serious threat. Former army general Lino Oviedo, responsible for an attempted coup in 1996, won the ruling Colorado party's internal elections to stand as presidential candidate in the May 1998 elections. His candidacy has been fiercely opposed by important sectors of the Colorado party itself, including the actual President, Juan Carlos Wasmosy and long time Colorado party leader Luis María Argaña. Numerous attempts have been made by the anti-Oviedo Colorados to have his candidacy anulled by the Electoral Tribunal and the courts. When this failed, Oviedo was first arrested and charged with disciplinary offences ("insulting the President") and then tried for the attempted coup in summary proceedings by a special military tribunal established by President Wasmosy. His sentence, of 10 years' imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge from the army, is currently under appeal before the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the military tribunal's ruling, Oviedo will automatically be banned from running for president. In that case his vice-presidential running party Raúl Cubas would assume as presidential candidate. The Supreme Court's decision is expected before the elections. In the meantime, and despite his imprisonment, Oviedo remains the Colorado party presidential candidate and opinion polls give him and his running partner Cubas a clear lead over the opposition alliance of Domingo Laino and Carlos Fillizola (Democratic Alliance). The anti-Oviedo sectors of the Colorado party are attempting to postpone the elections. That their efforts to interrupt the democratic process have so far been unsuccessful is largely due to the pressure of the international community which is unanimously calling for constitutional process to be respected and for elections to go ahead on time. There are several possible imminent dangers to the democratic process and respect for human rights in Paraguay:

·In the event that Oviedo's sentence is overturned, the anti-Oviedo sectors of the Colorado party and the current military hierarchy have threatened both civil and military action, tantamount to a coup.

·If the anti-Oviedo campaign succeeds in eliminating him from the elections, his support base, (which includes significant sectors of the armed forces - particularly lower ranking officers) will inevitably react and also possibly attempt a military/civil uprising.

·In the event that Oviedo wins the elections and succeeds Wasmosy as president, respect for human rights is likely to be jeopardised. Oviedo has announced his intention of reintroducing the death penalty (erecting a gallows in each department) and his blatant disregard for the democratic institutions in the past has led many observers to fear a return to authoritarian and repressive government.

The run-up to the presidential elections and the period until the accession of the new president in August, will be particularly tense in Paraguay. Legal proceedings against Oviedo: A number of legal proceedings were initiated against Lino Oviedo following his victory in the internal Colorado party elections in September 1997. It is clear that some of these investigations were motivated by a desire by other factions of the Colorado party to disqualify him as their official candidate. There is no doubt, however, that Lino Oviedo was responsible for an attempted coup in April 1996 and investigations to establish his penal responsibility had been underway since that time. Concerns have, however, been expressed about the nature of the military tribunal established by President Wasmosy at the end of 1997 and the conformity of the proceedings with international standards for fair trials. In particular, Oviedo's defence lawyers have questioned whether the military justice system had jurisdiction over General Oviedo who was dismissed from the army following the coup attempt and therefore technically a civilian and also at the summary nature of the proceedings. The IS has received the trial documents from Oviedo's lawyers and is considering these concerns. AI will not, however, make any public statement about proceedings against Oviedo at this stage. The IS will continue to monitor the situation in Paraguay closely over the coming months and will keep Section Press Officers informed of any significant developments.

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.