Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

Paraguay, independent since 1811, has been ruled almost
continuously by authoritarian regimes. In early 1989,
however, a new Government committed itself to a transition to
democracy and respect for human rights and subsequently took
important steps toward that goal. On February 2, 1989,
General Andres Rodriguez overthrew the 34-year-old
dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner. On May 1, in what
were judged by observers to have been relatively free and fair
elections. President Rodriguez received a mandate to guide the
country's transition to democracy. Nonetheless, at year's
end, the military and the ruling Colorado Party remained the
principal sources of power.
The police forces, under the overall authority of the Ministry
of Interior, hold primary responsibility for internal security
and maintaining public order. However, after the February
coup, the military, which in the last years of the Stroessner
regime seldom was called upon to control the civilian
population, was used several times to end illegal land
occupations by campesinos.
The political opening initiated by President Rodriguez was
complemented by economic reform. The new Government pursued
market-oriented econom.ic policies, including the elimination
of a multiple exchange rate system that contributed to
corruption and contraband. Corruption, however, remains a
serious problem. The Government also is considering the
privatization of some unprofitable state enterprises.
Paraguay is a predominantly agricultural, private
enterprise-oriented country. Business associations,
influential during the Stroessner years, continue to be
significant, both politically and economically, but they now
are confronted by the growing strength of organized labor.
The new Government took significant steps to reverse the
repression of human rights prevalent during the Stoessner
years. Political exiles were allowed to return, and
opposition political parties, previously banned, were legally
recognized and allowed to operate freely. Press restrictions
were largely lifted, but a cautious press continued to
exercise a measure of self-censorship. Newspapers and radio
stations closed by Stroessner were allowed to reopen.
Movement was made toward an independent judiciary by including
one member of the opposition on the Supreme Court and several
others on lower benches. There was a much greater, although
not complete, respect for freedom of assembly. Short-term
political detentions were fewer (though problems remained),
and the country's last two political prisoners were freed.
Meanwhile, recognition of and respect for labor rights
improved substantially, with workers free to organize, meet,
and march. Two of the country's leading human rights
activists were elected to Parliament. Two laws used by the
Stroessner regime to prosecute opponents for political
activity were repealed, and the Government ratified the
American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American and
U.N. Conventions against torture. Several police officials
accused of torturing political detainees under the Stroessner
regime were removed from their jobs, and criminal proceedings
were initiated against some.
Human rights concerns shifted from basic to more complicated
issues. A very significant impediment to full transition to
democracy lay in the flawed voting procedures and electoral
laws that make it very difficult for any opposition party to
win an election against the President and his party. The
freer political climate gave birth to rising expectations
among previously repressed groups, particularly landless
campesinos and independent labor unions. The new Government
at times reacted by violently breaking up demonstrations and
detaining leaders; the investigation and prosecution of former
police torturers moved slowly; respect for habeas corpus
remained questionable; the press was circumspect in
criticizing the President; and the Government often failed to
protect worker rights to collective bargaining.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Two unsubstantiated cases of politically motivated deaths were
reported by the press in 1989. Neither case appeared to
involve government culpability. On March 25, opposition
Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) leaders reported that a
party committee member in the interior town of Acahay was
slain. According to the local press, the man was killed by
another member of the PLRA. In another case, a Colorado youth
was killed on October 1, reportedly as a result of internal
party bickering in the town of Borja.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reported cases of politically motivated
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Paraguay ratified the Inter-American Convention Against
Torture in October. The Inter-American Human Rights
Commission reported in September, however, that it still was
receiving reports of sporadic cases of torture and abuse by
security personnel. Nevertheless, these appeared to be
isolated cases mostly in areas outside the capital city and
neither systematic nor reflective of government policy. The
Government dismantled torture centers used by the Stroessner
regime and initiated prosecution of former officials accused
of torture. Additional investigations were under way, but by
the end of the year no cases had been concluded, and it
remained to be seen to what extent those responsible for human
rights abuses under the previous regime would be held
accountable (see Section I.e.). While abuse of prisoners
occurs relatively less frequently than during the Stroessner
years, rough treatment of prisoners is still common.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution provides for a judicial determination of the
legality of detention and 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 frequently
to ignore these provisions in both political and criminal
cases during 1989 although not as routinely as in the past.
Some political detainees continued to be held incommunicado.
For example, Efigenio Lisboa, a prominent trade unionist in
Ciudad del Este, was arrested in June by military authorities
and held incommunicado in military detention for 27 days for a
speech the military found offensive. No charges were filed,
and Lisboa was released.
Exile no longer was used as a means of political control in
1989, with one exception. Although the exact number is
unknown, beginning immediately after the February coup,
political exiles—political and trade union activists as well
as writers and members of the performing arts—began returning
to Paraguay. The only exiles not permitted to return were
members of the still illegal Paraguayan Communist Party
(PCP) . Many PCP members returned clandestinely and were not
arrested or otherwise harassed by the Government. However,
Ananias Maidana, the Secretary General of the PCP who had been
living in exile for more than a decade, was refused permission
to enter Paraguay when he attempted to return to the country
on December 12.
Mario Mancuello, whose son disappeared in police custody in
1976, was freed from the arbitrary punishment of having to
sign in before 7 a.m. every day at his local police station,
as he had been required to do for the previous 12 years.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
In general accordance with the civil law tradition, trials are
conducted almost exclusively by presentation of written
documents to a judge, who then renders a decision. The
accused often appears before the court only twice—to plead
and to hear sentencing. All judgments are automatically
reviewed by an appellate judge, and the law provides for
appeals to the Supreme Court. Court proceeding are not open
to the public. Court proceedings in cases of a sensitive
political nature are held in secrecy, and any subsequent press
reports are based only on the attorneys' or judges' comments.
The Constitution and the Penal Code provide numerous
safeguards to protect the rights of individuals. While
nominally independent, the judiciary has been, in effect,
subordinate to the executive branch, which exercised its
influence through the presidential appointment of judges,
control over the judiciary's budget, and through the
discipline of the ruling Colorado Party. Supreme Court
Justices are appointed to serve for the same 5-year term as
the President of the Republic. Executive interference,
administrative shortcomings, and the lack of adequate
financial support for the judicial system limit the right of
an accused to a fair and speedy trial. More than 70 percent
of accused persons, after serving in detention the normal time
prescribed as a penalty for the crime of which they are
accused, are then released without ever having their trial
proceedings completed. To protest the long delays in the
judicial processing of their cases, 166 detainees in the men's
National Penitentiary of Tacumbu went on a hunger strike in
May. The hunger strike produced no major results. While no
prisoners were released, public attention was drawn to the
plight of detainees being held for prolonged periods without
having been tried or sentenced. Judges, including the Supreme
Court Justices, continued periodically to visit the country's
prisons to interview inmates to determine the status of their
The popular perception that the police and judicial
institutions of the State still serve those with political,
military, or economic power discourages some citizens from
reporting police abuse. Public confidence in the equal
application of the law was not enhanced in 1989 when
high-level Stroessner-era public officials accused of theft of
public funds were allowed to take advantage of a technicality
in the law to evade prosecution by donating to the State large
sums of money or land. By contrast, in September, an attorney
who had filed several such criminal complaints was detained
without bail on charges of extortion and blackmail, which,
according to the press, were based on accusations from an
official of a government ministry.
President Rodriguez assumed office promising an independent
judiciary. A move toward that goal was the unprecedented
appointment in June of a non-Colorado Party member. Christian
Democratic jurist Jeronimo Irala Burgos, to the Supreme
Court. Another sign of change came in early August when the
executive branch acceded to a decision of a lower court judge
and allowed two-Europeans married to Paraguayans to return to
Paraguay. The two had been expelled by the Stroessner
Government on charges of carrying out subversive activities
and were turned back by the police when they tried to return
in July. As a sign that much remained to be done, however,
judges alleged that they had been pressured to slow down the
processing of cases against ex-Stroessner officials accused of
human rights abuses and theft of public funds. Later, the
Government threatened but stopped short of transferring four
judges presiding over such cases.
The new Government abolished the infamous security laws 209
("Defense of Public Order") and 294 ("Defense of Democracy")
used by the Stroessner regime to jail political opponents
Paraguay's last two remaining political prisoners were freed
during 1989. Alejandro Mella Latorre, a Chilean journalist
imprisoned for 8 years as a coconspirator in the Asuncion
assassination of ex-Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, was
released February 16. Mella Latorre had remained imprisoned
after completing his original sentence, awaiting the outcome
of his trial for alleged involvement in a prison riot. The
Stroessner regime had refused to release him even though he
already had served more time in jail for the alleged second
offense than the penalty for that crime. Remigio Gimenez, who
was serving a 30-year sentence, was freed August 29, after 11
years in prison, after the Supreme Court overthrew his 1978
conviction, ruling that the statute of limitations had run out
before he had been found guilty of the crimes police alleged
he had committed in the 1950's.
      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
notable 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 often
has been ignored in practice.
With the exception of some isolated cases, after the coup the
Government stopped interfering with the Paraguayan Human
Rights Commission's (PHRC) mail. The organization reported no
knowledge of further problems mailing its newsletter overseas.
The Interior Ministry in February voided the use of Special
Agent police identity cards. Known as "stool pigeons," these
police informants were a notorious tool used by the Stroessner
regime to maintain surveillance over the populace.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Despite broad constitutional assurances of freedom of speech
and press, Stroessner tolerated little of either. After
February 2, however, an unprecedented degree of freedom of
expression emerged in Paraguay. Both the print and broadcast
media, as well as political activists and individual citizens,
were able to speak out without government interference on
subjects they never dared broach during the Stroessner years.
The day after the coup. General Rodriguez publicly pledged his
Government would respect freedom of expression; he has kept
that promise. The Catholic station. Radio Caritas, forced by
the Stroessner regime to reduce its broadcasting power weeks
before the coup, returned to full strength the day after
Stroessner's fall. Radio Nanduti, jammed and then forced off
the air by the Stroessner Government in 1987, resumed
broadcasting within days after the coup. The newspaper ABC
Color resumed publication in March, 5 years after being closed
by Stroessner. The opposition Febrerista Party's weekly
newspaper El Pueblo, shut down in 1987, also returned to the
streets. The Inter-American Press Association (lAPA), which
met in Paraguay for the first time in April, praised the new
journalistic freedom in Paraguay.
Only 2 weeks after the coup, Paraguayan television viewers
were treated to a televised debate among opposition and
Colorado Party spokesmen. Opposition party presidents Domingo
Laino (Authentic Radical Liberal), Euclides Acevedo
(Febrerista) and Jorge Dario Cristaldo (Christian Democratic)
exchanged views with Colorado Party Vice President Edgar
Ynsfran on a range of issues. Radio Nanduti owner Humbert©
Rubin was the guest journalist. Under Stroessner, the
opposition effectively was barred from all appearances on the
two national television stations, even during news
broadcasts. During the campaign for the May elections the
government-owned radio station granted free broadcasting time
to the competing opposition parties. Two weeks after the
coup, Asuncion's Channel 13 televised live a discussion on
torture in which the panelists, victims of torture during the
Stroessner regime, told their stories and answered call-in
questions from viewers.
Despite its newfound freedom, the press demonstrated a certain
discretion, even caution, in 1989. Paraguayan editors
exercised a considerable degee of self-restraint in what they
did and did not publish. While radio and television were more
aggressive and provocative, one glaring taboo remained: no
one publicly said anything derogatory about President
Rodriguez. In one example, the Central Unitaria de
Trabaj adores (CUT) labor federation waged a vociferous
campaign against Colorado Senator Bias N. Riquelme in support
of striking workers at his brewery. Although it was widely
known that President Rodriguez was a part-owner of the
brewery, CUT never publicly attacked the President.
In a specific instance of limitation of freedom of expression
in 1989, the Government prohibited the performance of the play
"San Fernando," written by Paraguayan playwright Alcibiades
Gonzalez Delvalle, which portrays national hero Francisco
Solano Lopez in an unfavorable light.
Although legally the public National University (UNA) is
autonomous, under Stroessner faculty positions were reserved
for Colorado Party members, and students complained about the
lack of differing perspectives taught in the classroom. In
1989 change in academia was slower than elsewhere in the
society. After the coup, students clamored for a voice in
administrative and faculty appointments and repeatedly
demonstrated to protest alleged abuses. A major objective of
the students was to bring about the ouster of Stroessner-era
deans who, according to the students, had repressed student
activism, were guilty of financial irregularities, or were
incompetent. Students won a number of those battles. In one
example, the dean of UNA'S School of Philosophy resigned in
August after students campaigned for months for her removal,
accusing her of - administrative irregularities. In 1989
student groups favoring opposition political parties and
dissident Colorado Party factions continued to participate
openly in free student government elections, often winning.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The rights of peaceful assembly and association provided for
by the Constitution were violated regularly by the Stroessner
Government. In 1989 one of the clearest and most immediate
changes after the coup was the removal of many former
restrictions. Before the coup, police insisted on prior
authorization for opposition gatherings and routinely denied
such authorization. The new Government required no such
authorization. Just 3 days after the coup, the Government
announced that it would not interfere with a march planned by
the opposition National Accord that Stroessner 's Government
had vowed to prevent. The march of thousands took place
February 11, without police interference. Radio Nanduti,
which frequently was prevented from holding public forums in
its auditorium in 1988, was the site of numerous opposition
political gatherings after the coup, especially during the
election campaign. Opposition political, labor, and student
groups held many rallies and marches during the year.
There were limits, however, to the new respect for freedom of
assembly. In February the Interior Ministry imposed a ban on
demonstrations in the heart of downtown Asuncion, citing the
need to maintain public order in the congested commercial
district. In July the youth arm of the PLRA canceled a march
after the police vowed to use all necessary measures to
enforce the ban. In one case, the Government unleashed attack
dogs on procampesino demonstrators in the restricted area on
June 23; several persons were bitten. On October 11, police
detained for 20 hours three prominent trade unionists
belonging to the CUT after they led a march on the
presidential palace. That night, police used water-hoses to
break up a demonstration by workers protesting the arrests.
The next day, police used force against landless campesino and
urban homeless marchers. No one was injured seriously, but
the incidents showed that government tolerance for
demonstrators had its limits.
The Government also showed greater respect for freedom of
association. Under Stroessner two of the country's five
Opposition political parties—including the largest, the
PLRA—were illegal. Before the May 1 election, the Government
granted legal recognition to all parties that applied. These
recognized parties included the existing PLRA and Christian
Democratic Parties, as well as six new parties formed during
the campaign. In another move, teachers were no longer
required to belong and contribute financially to the Colorado
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Roman Catholicism is the predominant and official religion in
Paraguay, but the Constitution provides for freedom of
conscience for all persons. The new Government continued to
respect that freedom in 1989, with all religious denominations
free to worship as they chose. Adherence to a particular
creed confers no advantage or disadvantage, and conversion
from one faith to another is not interfered with. Foreign and
local missionaries proselytize freely.
The Rodriguez Government has attempted to mend the rupture
that occurred in church-state relations during the Stroessner
years. In his first public statement after taking power.
General Rodriguez listed respect for the Catholic Church as
one of the reasons for the coup. A Spanish priest expelled in
1988 was allowed to return to Paraguay.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
In general, Paraguayan citizens travel freely within the
country with virtually no restrictions, but there continued to
be periodic and random roadblocks in rural areas to verify
possession of national and voter registration cards and the
current payment of registration fees, as well as to intercept
stolen cars and contraband. In 1989 the Government
discontinued the practice of denying passports to opposition
leaders. Paraguayan passports still are not valid for travel
to Communist countries, and the Government does not allow
citizens of Communist countries to enter Paraguay. There
were, however, some exceptions to these rules in 1989. The
Government chose not to interfere in the travel of a
Paraguayan delegation to the Communist-sponsored World Youth
Festival in North Korea in July. Earlier, the Government
first denied and then agreed to grant a visa to a Hungarian
youth leader to allow him to visit Paraguay to assist the
organizing efforts of the Paraguayan delegation to the
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
In 1989 Paraguay was in the process of a transition to
democracy, scheduled to culminate in 1993 with the election of
a new President, but significant problems remained. Although
the May 1 general elections, following a free and open
campaign, were the most honest in recent Paraguayan history,
Paraguay still was in the process of building effective
democratic institutions. While there was more tolerance of
opposition in 1989, President Rodriguez dominated the
political scene, as did Stroessner before him. The ruling
Colorado Party's two-thirds majority in the Senate and Chamber
of Deputies gave it complete control of the legislature, which
did not reject any significant presidential proposal during
the year.
Although President Rodriguez and the Colorado Party received
approximately 70 percent of the votes, certain factors
diminished the citizenry's ability peacefully to change their
government. Paraguay's antiquated polling system allowed for
fraud. Among the widespread voting irregularities were the
consistent lack of secret balloting, registration of voters on
election day, inaccurate voter lists, and distribution of
ballots outside polling booths. Another shortcoming was the
law that gives the party that wins a plurality of the
parliamentary vote two-thirds of the seats in both chambers.
Nevertheless, eight parties, including two formed during the
campaign, competed in the multiple-party, multiple-candidate
election that was witnessed by over 100 international
observers. These observers were allowed to travel and visit
polling places freely.
General elections, held every 5 years, next will take place in
1993 (the 1989 election was to select a government to complete
Stroessner's term). Municipal elections, also held nationwide
every 5 years, will be held in October 1990, when for the
first time local governments will be directly elected. The
law requires that all Paraguayans between 18 and 60 years of
age vote; sanctions for not voting rarely were applied.
Although the Constitution provides for equality of political
rights for women, in practice women continued to play only a
minor role in Paraguay's political life.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
During 1989 the Government welcomed discussion of human rights
in Paraguay with a variety of outside governmental and
nongovernmental organizations. In August Paraguay ratified
the Inter-American Human Rights Convention, and agreed to a
visit in 1990 of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission
(lAHRC) of the Organization of American States, which had been
barred by the Stroessner regime. The lAHRC's 1989 Annual
Report on Human Rights in Paraguay noted the Government's
pledge to correct the pervasive abuses of the former regime.
Local organizations remained active in the investigation and
defense 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 human 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 Paraguay Human
Rights Commission, and Francisco Jose de Vargas of the
Committee of Churches, were elected opposition members of
Parliament in the May election. As a result of the country's
improved human rights situation, the Committee of Churches in
1989 underwent a reorganization, shifting some of its
attention away from prisoner assistance toward civic education.
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. The large majority of Paraguayans speak both
Guarani and Spanish. Partially because of these common
unifying elements, there is no clear evidence of
discrimination based on race, religion, or language in
Paraguay. In fact, in political and military circles, fluency
in Guarani and ties to peasant or rural origins are considered
The participation of women in the social and political system
of Paraguay is limited through informal means in this still
predominantly male-dominated society. There are, however, no
laws limiting participation of women. There are several
nongovernmental women's organizations which focus primarily on
encouraging civic education and greater participation in the
democratic transition process. While the traditional social
system limits the participation of women, 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. In 1989 the Congress
studied a proposal formulated by womens' groups to reform
discriminatory provisions of the Civil Code pertaining to
marriage and property rights of women. President Rodriguez
broke a longstanding informal barrier when he appointed a
woman. Dr. Cynthia Prieto, as Minister of Health—the first
woman minister in the history of Paraguay.
Violence against women, such as wife beating, is fairly common
in Paraguay. Such abuse is against the law, but the law is
not generally well enforced. Legislation pending in the
Chamber of Deputies would establish a subsecretary ministerial
position (probably within the Ministry of Health) with
responsibility for women's issues.
Paraguay has an unassimilated Indian population estimated at
75,000-100,000 which is generally ignored and neglected. The
Government's National Indigenous Institute has the authority
to purchase land on behalf of Indian communities and
expropriate private property under certain conditions to
establish tribal homelands. 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. Although there is a government agency responsible
for Indian affairs, the social services (schools, health
posts, etc.) in Indian areas are generally of relatively poor
quality compared with those in other areas of the country.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Paraguay has been without beneficiary status in 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 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
After the February coup, private sector workers became free
from government interference to form and join unions of their
choosing without previous authorization. Public sector
workers, however, continued to be prohibited by law from
unionizing. After the extralegal restraints of the Stroessner
regime were removed, Paraguayan workers organized scores of
new unions. Only a small proportion of Paraguay's workers
were organized, however.
Numerous International Labor Organization (ILO) experts came
to Paraguay in 1989 for meetings with the Ministry of Labor to
explore ways of improving labor rights in Paraguay. In August
international trade unionists from Latin America, Western
Europe, and North America attended meetings in Asuncion of the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU),
including a session of the ICFTU' s Human Rights Committee. In
October the Ministry of Labor hosted an international,
tripartite conference on "Labor Relations in a Democratic
Society" in cooperation with the Government of Spain.
Government, business, and labor leaders from Argentina, Spain,
Uruguay, and Paraguay shared their recent experience of the
transition from authoritarianism to democracy. However, the
lack of participation by the principal leaders of Paraguay's
major business associations drew criticism from their foreign
counterparts and from the Minister of Labor.
In a significant change from the Stroessner era when the
government-controlled Confederation of Paraguayan Workers
(CPT) dominated organized labor, by the end of 1989 it
appeared that most Paraguayan trade unions were independent of
the Government and the ruling Colorado Party. A second labor
central, the National Workers Central (CNT) , was legally
recognized in July 1989. It is affiliated with the World
Confederation of Labor and its regional organization, the
Latin American Confederation of Labor (CLAT) . In August a
third labor central, the Unified Workers Central (CUT), was
formed by approximately 80 independent labor unions and
campesino organizations. The CUT was legally recognized in
October. The new CUT maintains contacts with the ICFTU and
its regional body, the InterAmerican Regional Workers
Organization (ORIT) , the American Federation of Labor and
Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) , and the
Communist-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU)
as well as with Brazil's CUT.
During the year, CUT increasingly came to dominate the labor
scene while the CPT, which maintained its ties to the Colorado
Party after the coup, suffered from internal divisions. The
Stroessner Government, for political reasons, often
arbitrarily denied legal recognition to independent trade
unions. After the coup, the Ministry of Labor recognized all
unions that met the legal requirements. By the end of the
year, over 200 unions had been recognized. Among the newly
recognized unions that previously had been denied legal status
was the first union at a savings and loan bank. The
Inter-union Workers' Movement (MIT), grew from eight member
unions to approximately 30 in the first 6 months after the
coup. MIT is not formally a labor central.
The right to strike, while recognized under Paraguayan law,
remained difficult to exercise due to the complex legal
process of factfinding, arbitration, and adjudication—which
can involve delays of several years—required before a strike
can be considered legal. There were no major strikes declared
legal in 1989. In late August, a wave of worker walkouts hit
the country, of which the four major strikes all were declared
illegal by the Ministry of Labor's Conciliation and
Arbitration Board. The law prohibits public sector workers
from striking.
Meanwhile, in response to growing labor unrest, the Government
in September formed a new nonofficial government-workeremployer
Labor Mediation Commission made up of representatives
of the Ministries of Labor and Commerce, the country's three
labor centrals, and the two leading business associations. In
its first case, the new tripartite panel resolved a dispute at
a lumber mill, ending both a strike by the workers and the
temporary closing of the plant by the company.
The general respect for human rights that began with the
overthrow of Stroessner directly affected the labor movement.
Workers were free to hold meetings and stage protests, and the
Government generally did not harass their leaders. There were
some exceptions, however. Efigenio Lisboa, a prominent trade
unionist in Ciudad del Este, was arrested twice in 1989, and
spent much of the year in detention (see Section l.d.). In
October police detained overnight three CUT leaders for
leading a march on the Presidential Palace. Meanwhile, police
used water-hoses to break up a demonstration by workers
protesting the arrests. (See Section 2.b.)
Two striking workers were killed by the Armed Forces at Itaipu
Dam on December 12. The two were members of a splinter
faction of the union representing workers employed by Itaipu
contractors, a faction which had been on strike for the past 2
weeks. The two workers were taking part in an illegal effort
by the striking faction to block the main access road to
Itaipu and keep nonstriking members from entering. Under
circumstances which still are not entirely clear, a military
detachment assigned to guard the dam opened fire on the
strikers while attempting to clear the road, killing the two
and wounding several others. The unit claimed that strikers
fired first, while the union claimed that none of the strikers
were armed. The Paraguayan Government has launched an
investigation. The confrontation and violence shocked labor,
management, and Paraguayan society as a whole. Government
mediators got the parties to sit down and negotiate a
solution, putting an end to the strike.
The Government permits labor unions to maintain contact with
regional and international labor organizations. The American
Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) reopened its
office in Asuncion 3 months after the coup. AIFLD had closed
its office in 1981, severing its relationship with the
government-controlled CPT. In 1989 AIFLD continued working
with MIT, while extending assistance to the new CUT.
At its November 1989 session, the ILO Committee on Freedom of
Association (CFA) considered four cases concerning Paraguay.
These cases, involving complaints filed before 1989, allege
antiunion discrimination, including dismissal, transfer, and
detention, without charges, of workers; employer interference
in the legitimate activities of the union; interference with
the right to strike; and failure of the Government to
recognize a union. Three of the cases arose in the private
sector and one in the public sector. Noting that the union
which had been denied recognition had subsequently been
recognized, the Committee requested the Government to improve
its machinery for enabling employees dismissed for union
activities to seek reinstatement; recalled the need for
legislation specifying remedies and penalties for employer
interference; expressed deep regret for the detention and
subsequent dismissal of a teacher, allegedly for union
activities; and requested the Government to provide detailed
information regarding the actions taken with regard to all the
individuals involved in the cases.
Several of these cases were also addressed by the ILO's
Committee of Experts (COE) . Among its recommendations, the
COE urged that measures be adopted to protect those categories
of workers—in particular public employees—not covered by the
Labor Code from antiunion discrimination; reiterated the need
for the Government to grant, unequivocally, the right to
organize and bargain collectively to public employees.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
A favorite antiunion tactic of Paraguayan employers after the
coup was to fire the leaders of nascent unions. The Labor
Code, dating from the Stroessner period, provided little
protection. Several labor leaders have challenged their
dismissals through the courts, a lengthy process that can take
years. At year's end, the Congress still was studying a
proposal presented by the MIT in July to strengthen those
provisions of the Labor Code that protect the job stability of
union leaders. According to a study done by CUT, 629 workers
were fired for union activity between February 4 and September
20, although not all of those workers were union leaders.
Subsequently, 101 of those workers were rehired by one firm
ordered to do so by a labor court.
The right to bargain collectively is recognized in the Labor
Code, but the Government did little to enforce the provision,
and it was not practiced generally. Some employers agreed to
collective bargaining, but there are no legal sanctions or
government pressures forcing them to do so. The labor laws
permit a union to represent all of the employees of a company
in collective bargaining even if less than half of the
employees are members of the union. The law also allows
multiple unions to represent the same employees at a work
Under the law, there exist no areas, such as special economic
zones, exempt from the provisions of the Labor Code. Paraguay
has no export processing zone. In practice, the rights of
labor are more strongly exercised in the capital city,
Asuncion, than in other cities or the rural areas because the
vast majority of the country's unionized jobs are located in
the capital.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced labor is prohibited by law and was not practiced.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Minors between 15 and 18 years of age can be employed legally
only with parental authorization and cannot be employed in
dangerous or unhealthy conditions. Children between 12 and 15
years of age may only be employed legally in a family
enterprise, an apprenticeship, or in agriculture. The Labor
Code prohibits work by children under 12. These age
restrictions are generally enforced, except in the informal
economy. It has been estimated, for example, that there are
about 15,000 children, many younger than 12, working in the
streets of Asuncion (500,000 population) selling newspapers,
shining shoes, cleaning car windows, and so forth.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government establishes a private sector minimum wage,
which depends on the type of work and the region, based on
studies of the cost of living prepared by the National
Economic Coordinating Committee. The minimum monthly wage in
Asuncion was approximately $125. 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 72 percent of Paraguayan workers earn less than the
decreed minimum, which the Government does little if anything
to enforce.
The Labor Code provides minimum guarantees of worker rights
and benefits. The law does not cover public sector,
temporary, or domestic workers. According to the Code,
maximum weekly hours are 48 for day work and 42 for night
work, with 1 day of rest. The law provides for a 1 month
annual bonus. Married women need their husbands' consent to
enter a labor contract, although labor contracts cannot be
denied to women who worked prior to marriage. Paid maternity
leave of 6 weeks prior to and after birth is required. Day
care centers for children under 2 years of age are mandatory
for enterprises employing more than 50 women. Severance pay
is specified and compensation provided in cases of unjustified
The Labor Code also governs conditions of safety, hygiene, and
comfort. The nascent independent trade union movement has yet
to focus on occupational safety and health. That, coupled
with the slowness and relative expense of the labor law
system, resulted in the frequent failure to provide the
protections established by the Labor Code. In general, the
Government did not effectively enforce the safety and hygiene
provisions of the Labor Code, partially for lack of inspectors.