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Paraguay: National Security
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security


In mid-1988 the armed forces continued to act as a major source of support for the authoritarian regime of President Alfredo Stroessner Mattiauda. Stroessner had used them, along with the police and the ruling National Republican Association-Colorado Party (Asociación Nacional Republicana-Partido Colorado), as the primary instruments to maintain his regime since coming to power in a coup d'état in 1954. Under the Constitution, the president is designated the nation's commander in chief. Stroessner, himself a general in the Paraguayan army, had chosen to fill this role actively, retaining command authority over the defense forces and involving himself personally in day-to-day decision making related to them. Stroessner was able to keep the military under his control, rather than vice versa, through his cultivation of ties of personal loyalty, his direction of assignments and promotions, and his reliance on a system of checks and balances within and among the defense forces, the police, the Colorado Party, and elite forces under his own control. Military members had also been given a substantial stake in Stroessner's regime, which granted them special privileges and power through salary, benefits, and opportunities for patronage and graft.

Paraguay had a strong military tradition, and the nation took great pride in its performance against Argentina in 1811, in the 1865-70 War of the Triple Alliance, and in the Chaco War of 1932-35 against Bolivia. The military tradition remained a valued one, even though the country had faced little if any external threat since the Chaco War. Instead, the armed forces under Stroessner were chiefly occupied in preserving internal security and supporting the regime. The military was also charged with guarding Paraguay's borders and protecting against insurgency, which had been limited to the 1959-64 period and was largely ineffective. In addition, the armed forces devoted a large portion of their resources to civic action and rural development. In keeping with the limited external threat, the military was equipped mainly to meet public order and internal security assignments. Reflecting the nation's troubled economy and the obsence of significant threats, defense spending in the 1980s had not kept up with inflation. Most military equipment had thus grown more and more outdated.

For administrative purposes, the armed forces fell under the purview of the Ministry of National Defense. Operational command of the approximately 17,000-member military was held directly by the president and exercised through the armed forces general staff. The army was the largest and most influential of the three services. It was equipped mainly as a light infantry force. Army officers, usually retired from active service, held positions in other branches of government and as managers of state-run economic, social, and political organizations. The navy was a riverine force that included a battalion of marines. The small air force flew mainly transport planes and helicopters, but also had a small number of counterinsurgency aircraft and a paratroop battalion.

The country enjoyed unprecedented internal security under Stroessner, and conditions of public order could generally be characterized as peaceful. This level of order came about, however, largely as a result of the government's willingness to use whatever means it deemed necessary to quell disorder and suppress dissent. From 1954 until April 1987, the government ruled almost continually under state-of-siege provisions. These provisions suspended in the name of security civil rights guaranteed in the Constitution. The government justified the extraordinary security measures as the price of peace in a "democracy without communism," even though the nation had not faced a credible communist threat since at least the mid-1960s.

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 the economic hardship that followed the end of the construction of the Itaipú hydroelectric project. In 1985 and increasingly in 1986, unprecedented demonstrations were mounted in Asunción and elsewhere. Most of these were peaceful until they were violently dispersed by police and other security personnel. The lapse of the state of siege in April 1987 was followed by a short interval of greater official tolerance toward dissent. This tolerance ended abruptly in late 1987, however, when a faction of the Colorado Party describing itself as militant, pro-Stroessner, and combative, took control of the Colorado Party in late 1987. As of late 1988, the government's return to harsh repression had not abated.

Criminal justice was the responsibility of the national government. The national judiciary, headed by the five-member Supreme Court of Justice, administered the country's criminal courts. All penal and procedural statutes were issued by the central government. Paraguay's police force was also a national force, organized under the Ministry of Interior. Police were divided into one force that served the capital area and another that served the rest of the country in divisions assigned to each of the nation's eighteen other departments. Public confidence in the criminal justice system was undermined because, although the judiciary was formally a coequal branch of government, in practice it was clearly subordinate to the executive branch. Moreover, both the judiciary and the police were widely viewed as susceptible to political and economic influence.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Paraguay was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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