Democracy and rights
Despite a modern and democratic constitution, Paraguay has not succeeded in freeing itself from the dictatorship of many decades. Both politics and the judiciary are characterized by deep corruption.
Progress has been made since the return to democracy in 1989 (see Modern History), but the shadow of the dictatorship still rests on Paraguay. Democratically elected governments have had limited success in overcoming corruption, drug trafficking and other crime or improving the conditions of the poor. Corruption permeates the whole of society.
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In international rankings that measure democracy and the rule of law, Paraguay falls far below the Latin American countries. Only prominent authoritarian states rank much lower, such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua which is abbreviated as PRY by Abbreviationfinder. In Transparency International’s index of corruption in 180 countries, Paraguay is in 137th place, along with Russia, among others (see full list here).
Elections are conducted under mainly democratic conditions, although international assessors such as the EU and the OAS demand greater transparency in the electoral process. Accusations of voting are made. When an attempt was made in the spring of 2017 to amend the Constitution to allow re-election of incumbent President Horacio Cartes, violent protests erupted, ending his resignation (see Current Policy).
Freedom of expression and media
The constitution guarantees freedom of press and expression. However, all information in the mass media must be “impartial”, giving the authorities the opportunity to intervene in what they regard as unfavorable reporting. Sensitive topics include corruption, smuggling, strikes and demonstrations.
Prosecutions against journalists appear to silence them, as well as threats and harassment from politicians, police, judges, prosecutors and organized crime.
Relations between politicians and organized crime make Paraguay a dangerous country for journalists to work in. Journalists and especially smaller radio stations are often exposed to threats or physical violence that local politicians or criminal networks are behind. The impunity is almost total. It is also common for reporters to be attacked in connection with watching demonstrations.
The seriousness of the situation became clear in 2014, when three journalists were murdered. They had reported, among other things, corrupt politicians and drug trafficking. When a former mayor in 2017 was sentenced to a long prison sentence for one of the journalist murders, it was highlighted as a historically important step (see Calendar).
Despite the threats, regime criticism is voiced in the media and opposition views are given space. On the index that Reporters Without Borders establishes about freedom of the press in the world, Paraguay is ranked 100 out of 180 countries (the entire list is here). This represents a slight improvement in recent years.
The authorities do not restrict access to the internet, which uses about half the population.
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary should be independent of political and economic power holders, but many lawyers and courts are in fact biased and under strong political influence. The members of the Supreme Court are appointed by a legal council, whose members must in turn be approved by the President and the National Congress.
Corruption targets often drag on for years without results and impunity is common because of the political influence over the judiciary. However, several initiatives have been taken in recent years to combat corruption and there are both non-profit organizations and media that work to uncover bribery and create transparency and the opportunity to claim responsibility.
According to the constitution, all citizens must be equal before the law, but the legal security of the individual is in practice weak. It has happened that landless peasants and peasant leaders have been threatened or murdered by landowners’ private militia, sometimes in conjunction with police and military. Torture, murder and compulsory recruitment of conscripts occur. The crimes are rarely investigated properly and the impunity is widespread. The prisons are overcrowded and substandard. Prisoners are sometimes tortured and many are incarcerated without trial. The police force is generally described as deeply corrupt and as part of organized crime.
In 2004, a Truth and Justice Commission was commissioned to investigate the human rights violations committed under the Stroessner dictatorship. When the Commission presented its final report in August 2008, the then-elected President Fernando Lugo apologized to the victims and their relatives for an apology in the name of the state. According to the Commission, some 128,000 Paraguayans were exposed to human rights violations during the dictatorship. These included political prisoners and torture victims. The government was called on by the Commission to examine around 2,800 people suspected of carrying out the abuses. However, few of those guilty of the crimes have been brought to justice. Alfredo Stroessner himself died in exile in Brazil 2006.
Corruption is widespread, although some progress has been made. Both organized crime and environmental degradation infringe on the rights of rural people and indigenous peoples.