Freedom in the World 2021 - Paraguay

PARTLY FREE
65
/ 100
Political Rights 28 / 40
Civil Liberties 37 / 60
LAST YEAR'S SCORE & STATUS
65 / 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.
 
 
 

Overview

Paraguay’s democracy is dominated by the conservative Colorado Party. Corruption remains widespread, while organized crime, environmental destruction, and systemic discrimination damage the rights of rural and Indigenous populations. Poverty and gender-based discrimination also limit the rights of women and children.

Key Developments in 2020

  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paraguay implemented one of most stringent and prolonged lockdowns in the region. Despite early success, the infection rate and death rate eventually started to catch up with regional peers. According to researchers at the University of Oxford, the country registered over 108,000 cases and 2,200 deaths by the end of 2020.
  • A September military raid on a camp occupied by Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) guerrillas left two 11-year-old girls dead, and prompted sharp criticism of the government by human rights groups following alleged crime-scene tampering and government misrepresentations of the incident.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

The president is directly elected to no more than one five-year term, although efforts to instate presidential reelection periodically surface. The Colorado Party has held the presidency for most of the past 70 years. The most recent exception, left-wing former president Fernando Lugo (2008–12) was removed from office in a legal, if highly controversial, “express impeachment.”

Mario Abdo Benítez of the Colorado Party won the presidency in the 2018 election, taking a little over 46 percent of the vote. Efraín Alegre, the candidate of the opposition Alianza Ganar coalition, took 43 percent. Observers including the European Union (EU) described the election as largely fair, although allegations were made of fraud, vote-buying, and a media blackout affecting other candidates.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The bicameral Congress consists of an 80-member Chamber of Deputies and a 45-member Senate, with all members elected for five-year terms. The 2018 legislative elections resulted in a majority for the Colorado Party in the Chamber of Deputies, but no party won a majority in the Senate. Monitoring missions considered the polls to be generally competitive and credible.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4

The Superior Electoral Court of Justice (TSJE) regulates electoral processes. The government has yet to implement most recommendations the EU election observation mission issued in 2013 and 2018, including securing the independence of the TSJE, making vote recounts possible, and making it easier for Indigenous peoples to vote. However, EU representatives praised the passage of a campaign finance law in February 2020. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, local elections were delayed from November 2020 to October 2021. Party primaries were also postponed from July 2020 to June 2021.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3 / 4

The Colorado Party has been in power for most of the past 70 years. The party dominates the national political scene with the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA), though both contain rival internal factions.

Several smaller parties emerged or increased their standing in the 2018 elections, including Patria Querida (PPQ), Hagamos (PPH), and Movimiento Cruzada Nacional (MCN), suggesting the grip of the two traditional parties is weakening somewhat.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

Despite the dominance of the Colorado Party, opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections. Former president Lugo was able to come to power in 2008 due to a split in the Colorado Party, while a liberal-left coalition, Alianza Ganar, came close to taking the presidency in 2018. In addition, rival factions within the Colorado Party serve as a kind of internal opposition and have recently alternated in power.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 3 / 4

Citizens are generally free from undue interference in their political choices. However, there is some concern over the growing political influence of Brazilian landowners in eastern regions. The constitution bars military personnel from politics.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

Political office is overwhelmingly dominated by male and White or mestizo individuals. No Afro-Paraguayans or Indigenous people held legislative office in 2020, although an Indigenous political movement, the Movimiento Indígena Plurinacional, has established a grassroots presence in both the Chaco and eastern region. Women held only 21 out of 125 seats in congress in 2020, and no regional governorships.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4

While elected officials determine government policy, the making and implementation of decisions is often influenced or hampered by organized crime and corruption.

A major scandal in July 2019 stoked fears that a renegotiation of the dividends of the Itaipú dam—a publicly owned hydroelectric facility shared with Brazil—due by 2023 will be determined by private interests.

Former president Cartes retains considerable influence over government policy and personnel. At the height of the 2019 Itaipú scandal, only the private intervention of Cartes saved Abdo Benítez from impeachment. Cartes seemingly benefited from special treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic; in July, for instance, he held a private meeting with former Argentine president Mauricio Macri, whose visit was exempted from a flight ban and mandatory quarantine.

In October 2020, the lower house voted to suspend opposition deputy Celeste Amarilla of the PLRA for two months after she alleged that at least 60 of her 80 colleagues held their seats due to “dirty money.” Critics said her suspension, driven by the ruling Colorado Party, contravened the constitution and parliamentary privilege.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4

Corruption and impunity are serious problems, and anticorruption laws have been poorly implemented. Cases often languish for years in the courts without resolution. Anticorruption protests and citizen transparency initiatives have forced the resignation and prosecution of officials from several parties under Abdo Benítez, who has taken a somewhat firmer line against corruption than his predecessors.

In 2020, serious and credible allegations of corruption were made regarding the purchase of coronavirus-related supplies by the Ministry of Health, civil aviation agency DINAC, and state-owned fuels firm Petropar; the latter resulted in the April resignation of Petropar’s president.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4

Government transparency is gradually improving, and the effective implementation of access to information laws has bolstered investigative journalism. Citizens show increasing intolerance for corruption and opaque government, and anticorruption demonstrations are becoming more common.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

Constitutional freedoms of expression and the press are unevenly upheld. Direct pressure against journalists, including threats by criminal groups and corrupt authorities, encourages self-censorship, and violent attacks against journalists take place occasionally.

In February 2020, Brazilian journalist Lourenço “Léo” Veras was shot and killed in the border city of Pedro Juan Caballero. Veras had reported death threats from narcotraffickers.

In July, soldiers detained and assaulted freelance journalist Roberto Esquivel while he was reporting on lockdown measures in the northern town of Bella Vista Norte. Esquivel was later released without charge.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

Diverse religious groups generally worship freely. However, the cultural dominance of the Catholic Church has spread further into public and private life, sometimes to the detriment of individual rights. Religious groups unaffiliated with the Catholic Church claim the government disproportionately subsidizes Catholic schools. There have also been concerns from human rights groups that Indigenous holidays are not respected by employers of other religious backgrounds.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4

Although academia is generally independent, student elections and professional advancement often depend on affiliation with the Colorado Party or the PLRA.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4

Citizens can, for the most part, engage in free and open private discussion, though the presence of armed groups in some areas can serve as a deterrent.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 3 / 4

Demonstrations and protests are common but sometimes repressed. In October, several thousand smallholder farmers demanding changes to rural land and agriculture policy marched on Asunción without interference.

However, restrictions on public gatherings imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were applied in a politicized manner, with more permissive rules for events involving the ruling Colorado Party. After a high-profile September protest over the military’s killing of two 11-year-old girls at a guerrilla camp, prosecutors threatened to bring charges against several demonstrators—initially citing incitement to violence and then the breaking of lockdown restrictions—in an episode widely interpreted as reflecting concerns about a growing authoritarian bent.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4

Paraguay has a strong culture of largely free nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field of human rights and governance. However, political access tends to be given to organizations made up of senior business figures or religious groups, while human rights groups are increasingly dismissed as reflecting an international liberal agenda.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4

Registration procedures for trade unions are cumbersome. Labor activism was nevertheless robust in 2020, with public sector unions protesting in June over proposed pension reforms, and doctors mobilizing to demand unpaid salaries and benefits in September.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4

The judiciary is nominally independent, but money launderers, drug traffickers, and corrupt politicians have co-opted local judicial authorities. Public prosecutors show increasing signs of co-option by the ruling Colorado Party.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4

Constitutional guarantees of due process are poorly upheld, largely due to corruption that permeates the judicial system. Individuals with influence or access to money are frequently able to obtain favorable treatment in the justice system. Cases like the 2012 killings of 6 policeman and 11 peasant farmers in Curuguaty are yet to be investigated fully and fairly.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4

Paraguay is one of the region’s safer countries. However, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) guerilla group is still active in the northeast. A September raid on an EPP camp that resulted in the killings of two 11-year-old Argentine girls generated sharp criticism. According to media reports and a Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation, officials quickly buried the bodies and burned the girls’ clothing, spuriously citing the need to follow COVID-19 sanitation protocols. Officials also made highly disputed claims about the circumstances of the killings and refused to allow independent investigation by respected Argentine forensics officials, despite demands by human rights groups. No video was reportedly filmed of the operation, in violation of standard protocols.

Later in September, an EPP cell kidnapped former vice president Óscar Denis; he had not been released at year’s end.

Violence between organized crime groups predominantly takes place along the Brazilian border, but is spreading. Illegal detention and torture by police still occur. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions are serious problems in prisons.

The police faced multiple accusations in 2020 of inflicting humiliating physical punishment on individuals found violating lockdown, with Interior Minister Euclides Acevedo minimizing the actions and even praising officers’ “creativity.” In May, a six-year-old boy was wounded when police shot at his parents’ car after they turned back from a checkpoint.

In July, soldiers were accused by NGOs of torturing 35 civilians in reprisal after a marine was killed in a shootout with smugglers in Ciudad del Este.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4

Paraguay lacks legislation protecting against all forms of discrimination. While same-sex sexual activity is legal, members of the LGBT+ community face endemic discrimination.

Indigenous people similarly face discrimination and lack access to adequate health care. Rampant deforestation, man-made forest fires, and forced evictions threaten the last Indigenous Ayoreo groups in voluntary isolation and Indigenous Guaraní settlements.

In September 2020, after years of protest by the indigenous Yakye Axa community, the government complied with a 2005 Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruling by initiating construction of road access to lands purchased by the state for the community in 2012.

Mennonite communities in the Chaco are afforded a wide degree of legal forbearance, as are Brazilian and European-descended ranchers in the eastern region.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3 / 4

Freedom of movement is generally respected, though the presence of armed or criminal groups can discourage travel in some areas. Most people can change their employment without legal impediment. For students, moving between educational establishments can prove difficult as faculty often have the power to retain grades.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3 / 4

Although there are few formal restrictions on private business activity and property rights, land disputes, often linked to historic misappropriation of public land and disrespect of Indigenous land rights, remain a problem.

The EPP has threatened, kidnapped, and extorted ranchers in northeastern areas.

A September 2020 report by Earthsight linked illegal deforestation for cattle ranching in lands belonging to the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people to leather purchased by European automakers.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

Women and children continue to suffer from high levels of gender-based violence and sexual abuse, with authorities receiving a daily average of 80 reports of domestic violence as of April 2020. Abortion, same-sex marriage, and civil unions remain illegal. The LGBT+ community reports feeling increasingly at risk amid the country’s conservative shift. Transgender women report that bullying and abuse forces them into homelessness and poverty, and local trans rights group Panambi reported a sharp rise in anti-trans violence in 2020.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

Approximately 23.5 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2019, with 4 percent living in extreme poverty. Both figures have fallen slightly in recent years, but poverty was expected to rise in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous populations are particularly affected. Inequality in land ownership and income is extremely high and social mobility very limited. Employees are often unprotected from employer retaliation. Reports of forced labor and slavery periodically surface.

The ongoing illegal practice of criadazgo—temporary adoption whereby children, generally from poor families, work without pay for wealthier ones—severely limits the freedom of roughly 47,000 children across the country.

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