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Paraguay - Politics

Recent Presidents
Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda15 Aug 195403 Feb 1989Mil / ANR-PC
Andrés Rodríguez Pedotti03 Feb 198915 Aug 1993Mil / ANR-PC
Juan Carlos María Wasmosy Monti15 Aug 199315 Aug 1998ANR-PC
Raúl Alberto Cubas Grau15 Aug 199828 Mar 1999ANR-PC
Luis Ángel González Macchi28 Mar 199915 Aug 2003ANR-PC
Óscar Nicanor Duarte Frutos15 Aug 200315 Aug 2008ANR-PC
Fernando Armindo Lugo Méndez15 Aug 200822 Jun 2012PDC/APC
Luis Federico Franco Gómez22 Jun 201215 Aug 2013PRLA
Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara15 Aug 201315 Aug 2018ANR-PC

Paraguay is not a rich society; 30% to 50% of the Paraguayan population lives in poverty. As such, there is a great deal of tension between the haves (i.e., elites) and the have-nots (i.e., the landless). A major factor which contributes to the discord between these two groups is the fact that 10% of the population controls 66% of the land, while 30% of the people who live in rural areas do not own any land at all.

Dictatorship was to Paraguay what constitutional democracy is to Scandinavia or Britain: it was the norm. Paraguay has never known anything like liberal democracy, since an incumbent party never permitted its opponents to win an election. Paraguay, a country where power had usually been centered on one man, had a history of domination by authoritarian personalities. Paraguay's authoritarianism derived from Spanish attitudes, isolation amid hostile neighbors, and political inexperience and naivete among a population that historically proved willing to abdicate its political rights and responsibilities. Nearly 300 years of Spanish rule rendered many Paraguayans poor, uneducated, unaware of the outside world, and lacking in experience with democracy. Furthermore, the people were nearly always under the threat of attack either from Indians or from raiders from Brazil.

One of the major achievements of the transition since 1989 has been the survival of the democratic system. Despite 35 years of dictatorship and a strong tradition of authoritarian rule, Paraguayans have adhered to democratic institutions and procedures in terms of resolution of conflicts and registering protest, and there appears to be a basic consensus between civilians and the political elites regarding the rules of the democratic game. Nevertheless, support for democracy remains low among citizens.

Political and social exclusion, rooted in traditional patron/client relationships based on land ownership and elite power, are fundamental issues that affect democratic reform in Paraguay. High levels of poverty, inequality, and lack of access to basic services such as water, health, education, and sanitation, especially among the rural poor, reduce the quality of democracy, limit access to benefits of the democratic system, lead to lower levels of democratic participation, and represent informal but very real barriers to democratic participation. These factors of exclusion also enhance opportunities for clientelism and patronage, the possibility of social conflict, and (potentially) support for authoritarian and/or populist figures who promise rapid reform. Above all, these problems undermine active, democratic citizenship—the ability of the individual to fully benefit from and participate in the daily functioning of the democratic system.

The fundamental problem facing the consolidation of democracy in Paraguay is that political parties and their representatives do not seek to gain power in order to act as legitimate representatives of the people and their constituencies, and to channel the needs and demands of those constituencies, or to defend the interests of the majority. Instead, there is a deeply engrained political culture of seeking to capture the state in terms of access to institutions, positions, and resources in order to increase political power for the benefit of themselves (party and individuals) and their allies, which include powerful elites with vested interests that work against much-needed political and socioeconomic reform.

Gen. Alfredo Stroessner took power in May 1954. The government's harsh internal security measures ensured that opposition to the regime remained muted throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. A slight relaxation in the government's response to domestic dissent, combined with the inspiration of Argentina's return to civilian democratic rule in 1984, emboldened some members of the opposition in the mid- 1980s. Members of the press, the political opposition, and labor groups, as well as students, peasants, and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, began to express dissatisfaction with Paraguay's political system and economic hardships.

On February 3, 1989, Stroessner was overthrown in a military coup headed by Gen. Andres Rodriguez. Rodriguez, as the Colorado Party candidate, easily won the presidency in elections held that May, and the Colorado Party dominated the Congress. In May 1989, under the new president, Paraguay began the long process of transition from authoritarianism to democracy. In 1991 municipal elections, however, opposition candidates won several major urban centers, including Asuncion. As president, Rodriguez instituted political, legal, and economic reforms and initiated a rapprochement with the international community.

The progress made by the government gained it admission as a founding member of the Southern Cone Common Market group (MERCOSUR), a common market in the southern Latin American continent including Brazil and Argentina. The inaugural ceremony for the group was held in Asunción in March 1991.

The June 1992 constitution established a democratic system of government and dramatically improved protection of fundamental rights. On 9 May 1993, the nation held its first freely contested democratic elections in many decades. Colorado Party candidate Juan Carlos Wasmosy was elected as Paraguay's first civilian president in almost 40 years in what international observers deemed fair and free elections. The newly elected majority-opposition Congress quickly demonstrated its independence from the executive by rescinding legislation passed by the previous Colorado-dominated Congress.

In 1995, however, there were signs of serious unrest in the army. President Wasmosy instituted a reorganization of the military high command to forestall any attempted coup. In late April 1996, a standoff occurred between President Wasmosy and popular General Lino Cesar Oviedo Silva over Wasmosy’s plan to restructure the military. Oviedo demanded Wasmosy’s resignation, and forced him to seek temporary asylum in the US Embassy. With support from the United States, the Organization of American States, and other countries in the region, the Paraguayan people rejected the April 1996 attempt by then-Army Chief Gen. Lino Oviedo to oust President Wasmosy, taking an important step to strengthen democracy.

Oviedo attempted to run as Colorado Party candidate in the 1998 presidential election, but was forced out and confined by the Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction for participating in the 1996 coup attempt. His running mate, Raul Cubas Grau, became the Colorado Party candidate and was elected president in May.

In 1999, the assassination of Vice-President Luis Maria Argana, leader of the conservative faction of the Colorado Party, and the killing of eight student anti-government demonstrators, allegedly carried out by Oviedo supporters. Many felt that President Cubas Grau wasn’t an active participant, but an instigator in the assassination. Protesters demanded Cubas Grau’s resignation, and Cubas Grau resigned in March 1999 and sought political asylum in Brazil.

The President of the Senate, Luis Gonzalez Macchi, assumed the presidency and completed Cubas' term. Gonzalez Macchi offered cabinet positions in his government to senior representatives of all three political parties in an attempt to create a coalition government that proved short-lived. Corruption and harsh divisions continued to characterize the Paraguayan government. They have yet to settle into an extended period of functional democratic governance, even though elections have become more democratic. In 2002 farmers, trade union members, and leftist organizations denounced free-market economics and called for the government to restore state control of the economy.

Gonzalez Macchi's government suffered many allegations of corruption. Macchi, whose administration was widely regarded as corrupt, was found not guilty in a Senate impeachment trial involving corruption and mismanagement charges in February 2003.

In April 2003, Colorado candidate Nicanor Duarte Frutos was elected president. Duarte's administration established a mixed record on attacking corruption and improving the quality of management. Since he took office he restored Paraguay’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and partially stabilized the economy. His efforts to cut corruption won widespread public support. However, continued rumors of assassination plots suggested that Paraguay’s legacy of political instability persisted.

Duarte worked constructively with an opposition-controlled Congress, removing six Supreme Court justices suspected of corruption from office and enacting major tax reforms. Macroeconomic performance improved significantly under the Duarte administration, with inflation falling significantly, and the government clearing its arrears with international creditors.

On 21 September 2004, a group of armed assailants kidnapped Cecilia Cubas, the 31-year-old daughter of former President Raul Cubas [she was later murdered]. Leftist involvement in the Cubas kidnapping appears to have been the "last straw" for President Duarte. Initial warnings from his own allies in 2003 about the Cuban Doctors' activities in the countryside and other attempts to exploit rural grievances for political purposes made little apparent impression on Duarte. As campesino unrest grew in 2004, Duarte took a harder line and with the Cubas kidnapping is convinced leftists at home and abroad sought to undermine his government.

In June 2004, Oviedo returned to Paraguay from exile in Brazil and was imprisoned for his 1996 coup-plotting conviction. There have been open violations of the Constitution including ex-President Cubas’s decree defying the Supreme Court and freeing Lino Oviedo from prison in 1998 and, more recently, Duarte’s manipulation of the Supreme Court to once again free Oviedo in 2008. In November 2007, Oviedo's criminal charges were overturned by the Supreme Court, and he was allowed to participate in the April 2008 presidential elections.

On April 20, 2008, former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo (representing a coalition of opposition parties) was elected President. According to the National Election Tribunal (TSJE), Lugo won 40.8% of the vote. Colorado candidate Blanca Ovelar came in second with 30.6% of the vote, and UNACE's Lino Oviedo came in third with 21.9% of the vote. President Lugo assumed office on August 15, 2008. Lugo identified reduction of corruption and economic inequality as two of his priorities. A former priest of the liberation theology school, Lugo shared a platform with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez soon after becoming president. (At the time Chavez announced, “For the first time, I feel wanted in Paraguay.”)

In June 2012 Congress impeached and removed President Fernando Lugo from office on grounds of “poor performance of duties.” Lawmakers voted to impeach President Lugo, after a botched eviction of peasant squatters left several dead. Lugo ordered police to evict a group of peasant farmers who were squatting on a private estate. The farmers claim the land was acquired illegally. More than 300 heavily-armed police officers stormed into Marina Kue in the Curuguaty district of Paraguay in an attempt to evict 70 rural farmworkers who had been occupying the land. The conflict swiftly turned violent and resulted in the deaths of 17 people, 11 campesinos and six policemen. Despite evidence suggesting extrajudicial executions by police, Paraguay’s Public Prosecutor filed criminal charges against 12 landless campesinos on charges of premeditated homicide, invasion of property, and criminal association.

Although the impeachment process followed constitutional requirements, it was controversial primarily due to its extraordinary speed. Lugo filed two separate appeals with the Supreme Court, both of which the court denied. The TSJE also recognized the validity of the impeachment.

Lugo denounced his ouster as president as a “parliamentary coup.” Immediately following his impeachment trial, Lugo said he accepts the Congress' decision, but says Paraguay's democracy has been deeply wounded. "Today, it's not Fernando Lugo who has been deposed. Today, it's not Fernando Lugo who is deposed. It's the Paraguayan story, it's democracy that has been profoundly hurt, in which all its principles of defense have been transgressed in a cowardly, treacherous way and I hope that its executors recognize the gravity of their deeds," said Lugo.

Vice President Federico Franco, who had been a strong opponent of the president, took office on June 22, 2012, to complete the presidential term, which concluded in August 2013. Former president Lugo remained active in politics and in the 2013 elections was elected to the Senate for a five-year term. UNACE party Chairman and Presidential candidate Lino OVIEDO was killed in a helicopter crash in February 2013.

On 21 April 2013 Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party, also known as the National Republican Association (ANR), won the presidency in elections recognized as free and fair. International observers from the EU, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) characterized the elections as free and fair. The OAS and the EU electoral observation reports highlighted the high voter turnout and the peaceful and orderly conduct of the April 21 elections. They also noted the Supreme Electoral Court’s (TSJE) professionalism and timely execution of the electoral calendar.

The OAS and EU reports both criticized inappropriate partisan comments made by a TSJE minister on election day, legal statutes that exclude smaller parties from legally overseeing polling tables, and reports of vote buying by various parties at scattered polling stations. Also noted, prior to the election, was the vote buying by ANR Senator Silvio Ovelar (whom Congress immediately suspended without pay for 60 days). The OAS and EU reports also noted the improper use of electoral polls and exit polls, the lack of media coverage of smaller political parties by media outlets, and the lack of control of campaign financing originating from private donations.

The OAS and EU Electoral Observation Mission’s final report noted the practice of using “corrals” to induce indigenous voters to vote for certain candidates. Corrals are open air, fenced areas, where food and occasionally alcoholic beverages are given to members of indigenous communities until the day and time to vote arrives. Although indigenous voters apparently went willingly to the corrals, EU observers suggested these corrals were used to influence votes and prevent opportunities to sell votes to others. The EU mission observed the use of corrals in seven different locations.

The UNASUR electoral report also highlighted the high voter turnout and the peaceful and orderly development of the elections.

On 15 November 2015, the country held nationwide multiparty municipal elections with international observers from the Organization of American States (OAS), Union of South American Nations, and Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations. The OAS characterized the elections as free and fair. The OAS observer mission also highlighted that the Supreme Electoral Justice Tribunal opened polling stations and disseminated results in a timely manner. Observers noted several shortcomings, however, including the weakness of campaign financing regulations.

On 31 March 2017 the Senate secretly voted to amend the constitution, which had not allowed re-election since it was created in 1992 following the fall of the brutal dictatorship. Rioters in Paraguay set fire to parliament to protest the bill that would allow the country's president to serve more than one term. Demonstrators broke windows and set fire to the interior of the parliament building.

The bill would then move to the house, and if it passes, Cartes will be eligible for re-election in 2018 when his current five- year term ends. Former president Fernando Lugo, who was ousted in 2012 for his handling of a land eviction in which 17 people were killed, would also be allowed to run again. A number of South American countries, including Paraguay, Peru, and Chile, have laws against presidents running for consecutive terms in a region not long removed from military dictatorships.





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