Paraguay - Introduction
Paraguay is landlocked, poor, a long way from everywhere, and seldom appears in the drama of international events. In 1989, the country began the difficult transition from military dictatorship to a modern democracy. It has endured a weak economy, political turmoil, significant social problems, and an ineffective government. Paraguay is a multiparty, constitutional republic. The National Police, under the authority of the Interior Ministry, are responsible for preserving public order, protecting the rights and safety of persons and entities and their property, preventing and investigating crimes, and implementing orders given by the judiciary and public officials. The constitution charges military forces with guarding the country’s territory and borders.
A culture of distrust allowing for little interinstitutional cooperation hampers the ability of Paraguay's law enforcement community to tackle rising concerns about public security; Paraguay's National Police are widely disparaged by the general population as incompetent and corrupt. In November 2004, given the lack of confidence in the police, the President called the military out of the barracks to assist with law enforcement efforts.
Paraguay has not traditionally been affected by political violence, but demonstrations are not uncommon. While Paraguay has been spared the large number of kidnappings that occur in neighboring Latin American countries, a few high profile cases have occurred in recent years, most of them attributed to purported members of the leftist Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP). The GOP has responded to the EPP threat with combined military and police operations. Land invasions, marches, and organized protests occur, mostly by rural and indigenous communities making demands on the government, but these events rarely turn violent. International observers recognized general and municipal elections in 2013 and 2015, respectively, as free and fair.
There are political protests, demonstrations, and roadblocks by civil society groups (peasant organizations, students, unions, government employees). Throughout 2015, there were numerous demonstrations in Asunción and the countryside. Most protests and demonstrations were by workers demanding increased benefits or protesting government policies. Peasant farmers have come to Asunción to protest a lack of jobs, land, and housing. Demonstrations are typically non-violent and coordinated with authorities and police, but there have been incidents of violence.
The Tri-Border Area (TBA), the area of Paraguay that meets Brazil and Argentina, near the city of Ciudad del Este, is a primary area of US concern due to the high rate of transnational crime that impinges on US interests. The area is notorious for drug and other smuggling, including trafficking in persons, intellectual piracy, document forgery, counterfeit cigarette manufacturing and loose border controls, especially at the Friendship Bridge connecting Paraguay with Brazil. A priority concern for that region is terrorist fundraising, especially by Hezbollah.
The law authorizes the president to mobilize military forces domestically against any “internal aggression” endangering the country’s sovereignty, independence, and the integrity of its democratic constitutional order. The law requires the president to notify Congress, within 48 hours, of a decision to deploy troops. By law the president’s deployment order must define geographic location, be subject to congressional scrutiny, and have a set time limit. As of October 1, a total of 829 personnel from the Joint Task Force (FTC), consisting of personnel from the armed forces, National Police, and the National Anti-narcotics Secretariat (SENAD), were deployed to the departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay.
The Defense Ministry, also under the president’s authority but outside the military’s chain of command, handles some defense matters. The ministry is responsible for the logistical and administrative aspects of the armed forces, especially the development of defense policy.
Members of security forces allegedly committed abuses and crimes with impunity. A special unit in the Attorney General’s Office investigated 142 cases of excessive use of force in 2015 (compared with 290 in 2014), opened 19 cases of torture (compared with 39 in 2014), and investigated six cases of improper prosecution of innocents (compared with one in 2014). There was no information as to whether any of these cases resulted in convictions or sentences.
Incidents of violent crime are increasing in Paraguay. There have been reports of armed assault, car theft and kidnapping. Within Asunción, the police continue to report a higher level of crime (property crimes, assaults) in the central downtown area. The majority of the crimes committed in downtown Asunción take place at night. Criminals do target those believed to be wealthy, including expatriates. Crime is generally non-violent, but the common use of knives and firearms in muggings and street crime creates the possibility for serious harm. Recent statistics and high profile incidents indicate a growing willingness by criminals to use firearms. Street crime (pickpocketing, mugging), is common in downtown Asunción, at the bus terminal, and on public buses. Armed robbery, car theft, burglaries, and occasionally home invasions are a problem. Street crime (pickpocketing, mugging) is prevalent on public buses and in urban areas.
Driving standards in Paraguay are poor and traffic can be disorganised. Defensive driving is a requirement, as traffic is extremely congested and unpredictable. Only minimal standards are required to obtain a driver's license, and driver’s education is uncommon. Drivers routinely ignore traffic regulations, and many drive without insurance coverage. Many traffic lights are inoperable or difficult to see. In 2015, there were approximately 939 deaths attributed to traffic accidents in Paraguay.
Paraguay has seen a marked increase in the prevalence of motorcycles. Paraguayans can obtain motorcycles for very little money and with no formal training. Motorcycles pass on both sides of vehicles, often in a very dangerous manner, and sometimes on sidewalks. Due in large part to a lack of enforceable traffic and safety regulations, a majority of traffic deaths occur in accidents between a vehicle and motorcycle.
Nearly all rural roads are unpaved and can be impassable during the rainy season (November-April). Road signs indicating hazards are lacking in many areas. Driving or traveling at night on highways outside urban areas is not recommended due to the number of vehicles without proper lights.
Public transportation safety is a major concern. Public bus accidents occur frequently and are caused primarily by driver negligence. The level of both driver training and safety awareness does not reach minimum US standards. Many buses pass through high crime areas and are susceptible to robberies.
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