Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990

Paraguay, independent since 1811, has been ruled almost
continuously by authoritarian regimes, In early 1989,
however, a new Government committed itself to democracy and
respect for human rights and subsequently took important steps
toward those goals. Nonetheless, the military and the
Colorado Party remain the dominant forces in the political
system of the country.
The police forces, under the overall authority of the Ministry
of Interior, hold primary responsibility for internal security
and maintaining public order. The military occasionally
supplemented the police for crowd control, and for the first 8
months of 1990 it was used in this function primarily to
remove peasant squatters from land. A presidential order
ended that military role in August. The police recurrently
were accused of excessive use of force and brutal treatment of
suspects in custody.
Paraguay has a free market economy oriented toward the
exportation of primary agricultural products. In 1990 the
Government continued its efforts to reform the economy by
pursuing market-oriented economic policies. Business
associations continued to wield considerable influence, both
politically and economically, but they were confronted by the
growing strength of organized labor.
The principal human rights problems in 1990 included violent
evictions by police of squatters from privately held lands, a
situation which was primarily a result of the Government's
failure to develop and implement a comprehensive agrarian
reform program to provide for the land needs of Paraguay's
peasant majority. Other problem areas included police torture
of common criminals, police corruption, the limited
independence of the judiciary, and the Government's
ineffectiveness in protecting workers from violations of their
rights by employers.
In 1990 the Government significantly increased the potential
for free and fair elections when it approved a new and
distinctly improved electoral code. The new law will be put
into practice for the first time in the municipal elections
scheduled for May 1991.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no substantiated cases of politically motivated
deaths in 1990. There was one publicized case of a criminal
suspect, Herminio de Jesus Romero, who died while in police
custody in March. Family members claimed that there were
definite torture marks on the cadaver. The police failed to
give a satisfactory account of his death, and an official
investigation had not announced any results by year's end.
There were two publicized but unsubstantiated cases of
peasants who were killed under unclear circumstances. In
April Arsinio Paez, head of a local landless peasant movement,
was killed, allegedly by two Brazilians in Ype Jhu on the
Paraguayan side of the border. In August another peasant,
Nicolas Caceres, died during a confrontation between
a local peasant group and vigilantes answering the Rural
Association of Paraguay's (ARP) call for the defense of private
property against squatters, according to a peasant group
      b. Disappearance
There were no reported cases of disappearance by security
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There are frequent and credible reports of police brutality in
the treatment of criminal suspects in detention, including the
use of torture. During the year there were at least 10
publicized reports charging police torture of dozens of people,
including minors. Some reports were graphic about specific
techniques; most referred to beatings and similar rough
In March six criminal suspects were reported to have been
beaten while in police custody. One, Jorge Rojas Aguero,
claimed he was suffocated, beaten on the soles of his feet, and
had a fire hose turned on him. At the invitation of the chief
of police, Francisco Sanchez, the Chamber of Deputies'
Committee on Human Rights interviewed the suspects. The
Committee denounced the physical abuse of detainees, and
General Sanchez pledged that he would pursue all cases of
police abuse of authority. In April Supreme Court Justice
Jeronimo Irala Burgos ordered an investigation into the case,
marking the first time that a high court justice has intervened
in a human rights case. However, investigations into this and
similar cases are slow and often fail to result in a
satisfactory resolution in a timely manner.
Reports of police brutality, mostly beatings, against several
minors awaiting transfer to the Embocada detention center
became a major press story in November. By late 1990 the
Parliament's Committee on Human Rights was significantly more
active in investigating cases of abuse, especially claims of
those held in police custody.
There were at least four known cases of dismissal of police
officers accused of physical abuse of detainees, and the
Minister of Justice and Labor established a General Directorate
on Human Rights to assist monitoring and promoting human rights
Throughout the year, security forces dislodged peasant
squatters. Peasants detained on judicial orders to protect
private property were often held in poor conditions under
nonspecific warrants and without prompt judicial processing;
most were released from custody within a few hours. Reports
also surfaced of land owners taking justice into their own
hands by arming their employees and aggressively removing
squatters from their property without court orders. Most of
the evictions were violent, often accompanied by shots fired
into the air, but there were no reports of fatalities.
Peasants frequently suffered bruises and beatings during these
evictions. Police also have been known to use tear gas against
the squatters and to burn down their dwellings. Investigations
into abuses by landowners are notoriously slow.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution provides for a judicial determination of the
legality of detention. It stipulates that any person arrested
without a warrant must be presented formally before a judge
within 24 hours of his detention and have charges filed
against him within 48 hours. Authorities continued to violate
these provisions in 1990, although not as routinely as in the
past. Some detainees continued to be held incommunicado. Two
members of the militant pro-Stroessner faction of the Colorado
Party were detained without charges for less than 24 hours in
August in an effort to dissuade them from engaging in
political activity.
Exile no longer was used as a means of political control in
1990. Although the Paraguayan Communist Party still is
officially outlawed, all of its members, including its leader
Ananias Maidana, have been allowed to return to Paraguay.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
In general accordance with civil law tradition, trials are
conducted almost exclusively by the presentation of written
documents to a judge, who then renders a decision. Since
there is no trial by jury, the judge alone determines guilt or
innocence and decides the punishment. During the pretrial
phase, the judge receives and may request police and
prosecution investigative reports. In this phase, the judge
is also likely to make a personal inspection of the scene of
the crime and of all physical evidence available. The accused
often appears before the court only twice—to plead and to
hear sentencing. All judgments automatically are reviewed by
an appellate judge, and the law provides for appeals to the
Supreme Court. Court proceedings in cases of a sensitive
political nature are held in secret, and any subsequent press
reports are based only on the attorneys' or judges' comments.
While nominally independent, the judiciary is subordinate to
the executive branch, which exercises its influence through
the presidential appointment of judges and control over the
judiciary's budget. Although the new Government has included
some independent jurists and opposition party members on the
Supreme Court, the vast majority of lower court judges were
appointed by the Stroessner government (1955-89) and often act
arbitrarily. Meanwhile, judicial prosecutions of Stroessnerera
torturers and corrupt officials continued to drag on
without resolution.
The judiciary's inadequate budget and the cumbersome written
trial process, combined with the lack of adequately trained
personnel at all levels, limit the right of an accused to a
fair and speedy trial. More than 90 percent of prisoners have
not been sentenced, but serve the time prescribed as a penalty
for the crime of which they are accused and are then
released. The Government worked with the United Nations, the
U.S. Agency for International Development, and other donors to
reform various provisions in the Code of Penal Procedure that
would improve the administration of justice.
Police and judicial institutions still tend to serve those
with political, military, or economic power, which discourages
some citizens from reporting police abuse. Public confidence
in the equal application of the law was not enhanced when
high-level Stroessner-era public officials accused of the
theft of public funds were allowed to evade punishment by
donating land or money to the State. In March the release
from prison of Justo Eris Almada, former administrator of the
Paraguayan free port at Paranagua, Brazil, caused a public
uproar. Almada, who was in prison for misappropriation of
public funds, left Paraguay soon after his release and was
again being sought by Paraguayan legal authorities at year's
end. Several days after the release ruling. Supreme Court
Justice Jeronimo Irala Burgos suspended the judge and
prosecuting attorney in the case, and in September the Supreme
Court voted to remove the judge and prosecutor from their jobs
for their handling of the Almada case. Meanwhile, human
rights groups applauded the dismissal of Attorney General
Diogenes Martinez, who failed to prosecute cases of human
rights abuses and corruption.
Paraguay no longer has political offenses on its statutes, nor
are there any political prisoners.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While government and security forces generally do not
interfere in the private lives of citizens, there have been
exceptions. Although private homes are protected
constitutionally from police entry except under the terms of a
judicial warrant or to prevent a crime, this protection at
times was ignored
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Paraguayan press in 1990 continued to enjoy the freedom it
acquired in 1989. However, editors exercised a considerable
degree of self-restraint in what they did and did not publish;
radio and television were more aggressive and provocative.
One taboo remained: material critical of President Rodriguez
or his family rarely was published or broadcast.
There was little change in academic freedom in 1990. Students
continued to protest against corruption and staged a number of
student strikes without government intervention.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Following several clashes between police and downtown
demonstrators after the Interior Ministry decreed a ban in
February 1989 on protests in the heart of Asuncion, the
Congress in June 1990 passed a law that supersedes the decree
regulating demonstrations in Asuncion. The new law, which was
universally viewed as an improvement over previous
legislation, limits the areas where demonstrations may take
place. It also requires notice to the Asuncion police at
least 24 hours before any rally in the downtown area. Under
the new law, the police could ban the rally only if a third
party already had given notice of plans for a similar rally at
the same place and time, and police refusal of the permit
would have to be given in writing to the organizers within 12
hours of receipt of the organizers' request. In addition, the
bill prohibits public meetings or demonstrations in front of
the Presidential Palace and outside military or police
      c. Freedom of Religion
Roman Catholicism is the predominant and official religion in
Paraguay, but the Constitution provides for freedom of
religion for all persons, and the Government continued to
respect that freedom in 1990.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Paraguayan citizens travel freely within the country with
virtually no restrictions. Although Paraguayan passports are
not valid for travel to Communist countries, the Government
has taken no action to stop citizens from visiting Communist
countries. The Government continued the practice of not
allowing citizens of Communist countries to enter Paraguay.
There are no restrictions on other foreign travel or
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
In 1990 Paraguay continued its transition to democracy begun
in 1989, which is scheduled to culminate in 1993 with the
election of a new President. The Congress slowly began to
assert itself, modifying the Executive's legislative proposals
and seeking detailed reports from ministries on their
expenditures and execution of policy. Early in the year, the
Colorado-controlled Congress, with the help of the opposition
Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) leadership, weakened
the President's stronger reform-oriented proposal to revise
the electoral code.
The electoral code reform law, passed by the Congress in
February and signed into law by the President in March,
contains several important changes, including proportional
representation in the Congress, the electoral tribunal, and
other elected bodies; direct municipal elections; independent
(nonparty) and coalition candidacies; direct internal party
elections of party candidates and officers; government
financing for campaigns; regulation of media time; and the
establishment of a nonpartisan electoral tribunal to rule on
conflicts or questions pertaining to elections or political
parties. The electoral tribunal is a nonpartisan court that
rules on all conflicts or questions pertaining to elections or
political parties. Reform of the Constitution is planned for
General elections are held every 5 years; the next will take
place in 1993. Municipal elections, also held nationwide
every 5 years, had originally been scheduled for October 1990,
but were postponed after the passage of the new electoral code
and then again to permit increased voter registration. The
elections are now set for May 1991, when for the first time
local governments will be elected directly. The law requires
all Paraguayans between 18 and 60 years of age to vote, but
does not define any sanctions for not voting.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
Four major human rights groups operate in Paraguay: the
Committee of Churches (supported by foreign churches), the
Paraguayan Human Rights Commission (which publishes a periodic
newsletter), Prodemos (a group that includes Roman Catholic
Bishop Mario Melanio Medina among its leaders), and the local
chapter of the Association of Latin American Lawyers for the
Defense of Human Rights. The Catholic Church also is an
active advocate of human rights. The Church's weekly
newspaper, Sendero, includes reports on alleged hximan rights
violations as a major part of its editorial format. Two of
Paraguay's leading human rights advocates. Carmen Casco de
Lara Castro of the Paraguayan Human Rights Commission and
Francisco Jose de Vargas of the Committee of Churches,
continued to serve as opposition members in the Congress.
In June the Government allowed the leftist, nongovernmental
human rights organization, the Permanent Tribunal of the
People, to meet in Asuncion. The 3-day mock tribunal, which
received extensive local press coverage, provided a forum for
victims of the Stroessner regime's repression. The "hearings"
also examined cases of public corruption. The Government of
President Rodriguez also came in for some criticism, mostly
for its failure to punish Stroessner-era officials.
During 1990, the Government welcomed discussion of human
rights in Paraguay with a variety of outside governmental and
nongovernmental organizations. After more than a decade of
stalling by the previous regime, the Inter-American Human
Rights Commission (lACHR) of the Organization of American
States (OAS) was invited to make an on-site visit to Asuncion
on February 6-10. The five-person delegation met with
representatives of various sectors of the Government and
society, including President Rodriguez, Cabinet ministers,
lawmakers, the Supreme Court, the political opposition,
organized labor, human rights, and peasant, Indian, and
women's groups. The Commission received written reports from
a number of the organizations. In general, the Commission was
told that the Government deserved high marks for its political
liberalization, but had failed to solve economic and social
maladies, particularly the explosive problem of landless
peasants. Paraguay hosted the 20th OAS General Assembly in
June, at which the lACHR's Annual Report on Paraguay was
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Ethnically, socially, and culturally, Paraguay has one of the
most homogeneous populations in South America. More than 90
percent of the people are of mixed Guarani Indian and Spanish
descent. An even larger percentage of the population is Roman
Catholic. A large majority of Paraguayans speak both Guarani
and Spanish. In fact, in political, cultural, and military
circles fluency in Guarani and ties to peasant or rural
origins are considered positive, and, in the case of the
military, necessary attributes.
There are significant expatriate Korean and Chinese
communities which experience de facto social and economic
discrimination. Koreans and Chinese are routinely denied
access to the same financial institutions and terms that are
enjoyed by non-Asian Paraguayans. They are often
discriminated against in the housing market, and do not have
equal access to private institutions and schools.
The participation of women in the social and political system
is limited in this still male-dominated society. There are
several nongovernmental women's organizations, which focus
primarily on encouraging civic education and greater
participation in the democratic transition process. As a role
model. Dr. Cynthia Prieto, Minister of Public Health and
Paraguay's first female Cabinet Minister, continued to receive
high marks for her leadership and performance, both in
Paraguay and at the Pan-American Health Organization. While
the traditional social system limits the participation of
women in politics, they long have been active in the economy,
particularly those women from lower income groups, and they
increasingly participate in business, the professions, and the
artistic world.
Paraguay's civil code, reformed in 1988 by the Stroessner
government, discriminates against married women through such
requirements as the husband's permission for employment, male
ownership of a couple's property, and male control over travel
of the wife and children. Violence against women such as wife
beating is common in Paraguay. Such abuse is against the law,
but the law has not consistently been well enforced. During
the year there were several cases of husbands killing their
wives in marital disputes. The murders were universally
condemned and the husbands arrested on criminal charges. In
1990 a Department of the Family, one of whose functions is to
assist battered women, was opened within the Asuncion police
Paraguay has an unassimilated Indian population estimated at
7S, 000-100, 000 , which is generally ignored and neglected. The
Government's National Indigenous Institute (INDI) has the
authority to purchase land on behalf of Indian communities and
to expropriate private property under certain conditions to
establish tribal homelands, but the entity is not well
funded. Social services, (schools, health posts, and so
forth) in Indian areas are generally of relatively poor
quality compared to those in other areas of the country, and
the Government actively encourages church groups to work with
indigenous populations in health and welfare, as well as in
religious matters. The problems of the indigenous population,
particularly those involving land claims, continued to receive
frequent media attention during the year.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Paraguay has been denied trade preferences under the U.S.
Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program since 1987,
when it was found not to be in compliance with the GSP
statutory requirements regarding the provision of
internationally recognized worker rights. Paraguay was
removed from the program after a review of charges that
Paraguayan workers were being denied freedom of association
and that their leaders were being harassed. A rec[uest by the
Government for reinstatement in the program based on claimed
improvements since the Rodriguez Government took power was
under consideration at the end of 1990.
Private sector workers were free to form and join unions of
their choosing without government interference. Public sector
workers, however, continued to be prohibited by law from
unionizing. The Labor Code does not cover public sector,
temporary, or domestic workers. Only a small proportion of
Paraguay's workers were organized.
Governmental permission to exercise the right to strike is
limited by a complex legal process of fact-finding,
arbitration, and adjudication that can involve delays of
several years. No major strikes were declared legal by the
Government in 1990. The law prohibits public sector workers
from striking. Nevertheless there were many private sector
strikes in 1990, of which the longest and most significant was
the 83-day walkout by construction workers on the Paraguayan
side of the Yacyreta Binational Hydroelectric dam. Two
Unified Workers Central (CUT) leaders. President Victor Baez
and Deputy General Secretary Carlos Filizzola, were stopped by
security forces on a highway on March 9 en route to meet with
the striking Yacyreta workers. According to the two CUT
leaders, the soldiers told them that they had "orders from
above" not to permit them to pass. The trade unionists
finally were able to reach the strike site on March 12. Later
in the long walkout, police again delayed Filizzola in
reaching the strike site for a bargaining session with the
companies immediately after the strikers had named him their
negotiator. There were no reports of systematic government
harassment or violence against strikers or union leaders.
Unions are free to maintain contact with regional and
international labor organizations.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The union-breaking tactic of firing the leaders of nascent
unions that was so popular with Paraguayan employers in 1989
continued in 1990. The Stroessner-era Labor Code provided
little protection to unions and union leaders, but a new Labor
Code that simplified strike procedures and protected union
organizers was presented to the Parliament on November 23,
At year's end, the Parliament still had not reformed the
provision of the existing Labor Code that protects the job
security of union leaders, failing for the second consecutive
legislative session to decide on a draft bill submitted by CUT
in July 1989. However, the legislature was considering a
special session to deal with the proposed labor code
revision. Meanwhile, fired union leaders may seek redress in
the courts, but the labor courts are sometimes slow to act.
In some cases where judges have ordered fired workers
reinstated, the employers have simply disregarded the court
The right to bargain collectively is recognized in the Labor
Code, but most employers refused to enter into such bargaining
because there are no legal sanctions or government pressures
forcing them to do so.
Under the law, there exist no areas, such as special economic
zones, that are exempt from the provisions of the Labor Code.
Paraguay has no export processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced labor is prohibited by law and is not practiced.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The office of the Director General for the Protection of
Minors in the Ministry of Justice and Labor has the
responsibility for enforcing Paraguay's child labor laws.
Minors between 15 and 18 years of age may be employed only
with parental authorization and may not be employed in
dangerous or unhealthy conditions. Children between 12 and 15
years of age may only be employed in a family enterprise, an
apprenticeship, or in agriculture. The Labor Code prohibits
work by children under 12. However, a local nongovernmental
organization estimated that there were more than 25,000
children, many younger than 12, working in the streets of
Asuncion and its suburban communities with a population of
about 1 million, selling newspapers, shining shoes, cleaning
car windows, and so forth. In rural areas, it is not unusual
for children as young as 10 to work beside their parents
cutting sugar cane.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The executive branch of the Government establishes a minimum
wage, varying according to the region of the country, based on
studies of the cost of living prepared by the National
Economic Coordinating Committee. The minimum monthly wage in
Asuncion (the highest) was approximately $200 in mid-1990.
The minimum does not apply to all private sector employees; it
does not cover domestic servants, for example. The minimum
wage is barely sufficient for a worker and his family to
maintain a minimally decent standard of living. Furthermore,
it has been estimated that 50 to 70 percent of Paraguayan
workers earn less than the decreed minimum.
According to the Labor Code, maximum weekly hours are 48 for
day work and 42 for night work, with 1 day of rest. The law
provides for an annual bonus of 1 month's salary. Married
women need their husbands ' consent to enter into a labor
contract, although labor contracts may not be denied to women
who worked prior to marriage.
The Labor Code also governs conditions of safety, hygiene, and
comfort. In general, the Government did not effectively
enforce the safety and hygiene provisions, partially due to
the lack of inspectors.