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Paraguay: Security and Political Offenses
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Public Order and Internal Security > Security and Political Offenses

SECURITY AND POLITICAL OFFENSES


The tradition of authoritarian rule was deeply rooted in the national history and rigorously maintained by the Stroessner regime. The government tolerated only a narrow range of opposition to its policies and moved quickly and forcefully to put down any challenges that went beyond implicit but well-recognized limits, that threatened to be effective, or that were raised by groups not enjoying official recognition. The government pointed proudly to the stability that Stroessner's rule brought to Paraguay, which had been riven by years of political disruption. Noting that Paraguay escaped the instability, political violence, and upheaval that had troubled the rest of Latin America, government supporters dismissed charges by human rights groups that such stability often came at the cost of individual civil rights and political liberty.

The government relied on several pieces of security legislation to prosecute security and political offenses. Principal among these was the state-of-siege decree, provided for under Article 79 of the Constitution. With the exception of a very few short periods, a state of siege was in continuous effect from 1954 until April 1987. After 1970 the state of siege was technically restricted to Asunción. The restriction was virtually meaningless, however, because the judiciary ruled that authorities could bring to the capital those persons accused of security offenses elsewhere and charge them under the state-of-siege provisions. Under the law, the government could declare a state of siege lasting up to three months in the event of international war, foreign invasion, domestic disturbance, or the threat of any of these. Extensions had to be approved by the legislature, which routinely did so. Under the state of siege, public meetings and demonstrations could be prohibited. Persons could be arrested and detained indefinitely without charge.

The lapse of the state of siege in 1987 had little effect on the government's ability to contain political opposition as of late 1988. Other security legislation could be used to cover the same range of offenses. The most important of these provisions was Law 209, "In Defense of Public Peace and Liberty of Person." This law, passed in 1970, lists crimes against public peace and liberty, including the public incitement of violence or civil disobedience. It specifies the limits on freedom of expression set forth in Article 71 of the Constitution, which forbids the preaching of hatred between Paraguayans or of class struggle. Law 209 raises penalties set forth in earlier security legislation for involvement in groups that seek to replace the existing government with a communist regime or to use violence to overthrow the government. It makes it a criminal offense to be a member of such groups and to support them in any form, including subscribing to publications; attending meetings or rallies; and printing, storing, distributing, or selling print or video material that supports such groups. Law 209 also sets penalties for slandering public officials.

During the early 1980s, Law 209 was used to prosecute several individuals the government accused of taking part in conspiracies directed from abroad by Marxist-Leninist groups. Among these were a group of peasants who hijacked a bus to the capital in 1980 to protest being evicted from their land. In 1983 members of an independent research institute that published data on the economy and other matters were arrested after a journal published by the institute carried articles calling for the formation of a student- worker-peasant alliance. Human rights groups, critical of trial procedures and the evidence in the two cases, questioned the existence of a foreign-directed conspiracy, asserting instead that the cases represented carefully selected attempts to discourage organized opposition. During the mid-1980s, the government used Law 209 principally to charge political opponents with fomenting hatred, defaming government officials, or committing sedition.

The lapse of the state of siege also had little effect on the government's ability to handle security and political offenses because authorities routinely detained political activists and others without citing any legal justification at all. In these cases, suspects were held for periods of hours, days, or weeks, then released without ever being charged. In practice, persons subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention had no recourse to legal protection, and constitutional requirements for a judicial determination of the legality of detention and for charges to be filed within forty-eight hours were routinely ignored. According to the United States Department of State, 253 political opposition activists were detained at least overnight in 1987. Of these, thirty-nine were held more for than seven days, and formal charges were filed in only sixteen of the cases.

Many of those detained were taken to police stations, armed forces installations, or to the Department of Investigations at police headquarters in Asunción. There have been numerous well- documented allegations of beating in the arrest process and of torture during detention. The government has asserted that torture was not a common practice and that any abuses were investigated and their perpetrators prosecuted under the law. National newspapers have carried rare accounts of a few such investigations and trials, but continued allegations of torture suggested that the problem had not been brought under control as of the late 1980s.

The government also limited the expression of opposition views by denying permits for assemblies and refusing or cancelling printing or broadcasting licenses. In early 1987, an independent radio station suspended its broadcasts after the government refused to do anything about a months-long illegal jamming of its authorized frequencies. Meetings by the political opposition, students, and labor groups required prior authorization by police, who did not hesitate to block and repress assemblies that did not have prior approval, sometimes beating leaders and participants. The government has also restricted the travel of a few persons involved in the political opposition or in labor groups. Some foreign journalists and certain Paraguayans identified with the opposition were expelled. During 1987 two persons then in exile were allowed to return to Paraguay. The government claimed that a third, a poet, was also free to return.

The police and the military were the main means of enforcement of the regime. During the mid-1980s, however, armed vigilantes associated with the Colorado Party broke up opposition meetings and rallies, sometimes while police looked on. Such groups had been active since the 1947 civil war but had been used relatively infrequently after the 1960s. The principal group was a loosely organized militia known as the Urban Guards (Guardias Urbanas), whose members were linked with local party branches and worked closely with the police. A second group was led by the head of the Department of Investigations. The government did not appear concerned by the reemergence of such groups and may in fact have encouraged them. In September 1987, for example, vigilantes broke up a panel discussion of opposition and labor members that was being held in a Roman Catholic Church. The vigilantes used chains and clubs to attack panel members and a parish priest who tried to intervene. The minister of justice, who himself was the leader of an anticommunist association that maintained its own security group, later publicly commended the vigilantes.

Numerous sources of government opposition were targets of security forces during the 1980s. Activity by these groups as well as the violent suppression of such activity disturbed public order on numerous occasions.

Foremost among those groups officially viewed as a security threat was the Paraguayan Communist Party (Partido Comunista Paraguayo -- PCP). Since its inception, the Stroessner government has justified the continuance of strict internal security policies, particularly the prolongation of the state of siege, as necessary measures to prevent a communist takeover. Thus, the PCP's efforts to establish and maintain a power base in Paraguay had been ineffective throughout the Stroessner regime. This anticommunist fervor did not abate during the 1980s, however, even though the PCP was completely isolated from the national population. As of mid- 1988, the party was estimated to have some 4,000 members, most operating underground. Its leaders were either in exile or under arrest. The party claimed to have organized new cells during the 1980s, but their existence could not be confirmed. Excluded from the principal political opposition coalition, the PCP also claimed to have set up its own political front and labor front in exile. Both front organizations appeared, however, to exist only on paper, if at all.

The party was founded in 1928 and has been illegal since then, except for a short period in 1936 and again in the 1946-47 period before the PCP became involved in the 1947 civil war. The party's efforts to organize a general strike in 1959 were ineffective as was its involvement in guerilla attacks in the early 1960s. Both efforts drew harsh government reprisals. The party was believed to have two factions. The original one, the PCP, was loyal to the Soviet Union. A breakaway faction, the Paraguayan Communist Party -- Marxist-Leninist (Partido Comunista Paraguayo -- Marxista-Leninista) was formed in 1967; it was avowedly Maoist. In 1982 the government arrested several persons that it identified as being members of the pro-China wing of the PCP. Evidence in that case has been criticized by international human rights groups, however, and it was unclear as of late 1988 whether either wing of the PCP was active in the country at all. The party held its last conference in 1971.

Another illegal opposition group was the Political-Military Organization (Organización Político-Militar -- OPM). The group was founded in 1974 by leftist Catholic students and drew some support from radical members of the clergy and Catholic peasant organizations. The government made extensive arrests of OPM members and sympathizers in 1976, after which operations of the movement declined. It was unclear whether the OPM still existed as of mid- 1988, but the government continued to warn of its threat, claiming that it was under communist control.

The activities of illegal opposition parties -- including the Colorado Popular Movement (Movimiento Popular Colorado -- Mopoco), the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico -- PLRA), and the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano -- PDC) -- also drew official attention. Members of illegal parties were subject to regular police surveillance. They have alleged that their telephones were illegally tapped and their correspondence intercepted. The unrecognized opposition parties were routinely denied permits for meetings, so that any they held usually were broken up, often violently, by police, who cited them for illegally holding unauthorized assemblies. In 1979 these three parties joined with a legally recognized opposition party, the PRF, in a coalition known as the National Accord (Acuerdo Nacional). Leaders of this coalition, whether members of legal or illegal parties, were also subject to detentions and deportations.

Independent labor unions were another object of surveillance by government security forces in the 1980s. Most labor unions belonged to the Paraguayan Confederation of Workers (Confederación Paraguaya de Trabajadores), which was allied with the government and carefully controlled by it. Although workers not sponsored by the official confederation were not authorized to organize freely, some independent labor unions had been given official recognition. Their activities, however, were closely monitored by the police, who sent representatives to all meetings. Despite tight controls -- Paraguayan law made it virtually impossible to call a legal strike -- a number of labor-related public disturbances took place in the mid-1980s. In April 1986, for instance, a peaceful protest by a medical workers' association in Asunción was forcibly broken up by police. Vigilante groups associated with the Colorado Party were also active in intimidating and assaulting the doctors, nurses, and technicians involved, as well as university students who joined in subsequent demonstrations supporting the medical workers. Hundreds of demonstrators organized by an independent workers' movement were clubbed and beaten in the capital in May 1986. Continued demonstrations in support of the jailed demonstrators and medical workers also drew police action.

In 1985 student demonstrations disturbed public order in the capital for the first time in twenty-five years. An estimated 2,000 students clashed with police in April of that year. After a student was shot to death in the clash, more demonstrations followed, and part of the National University was closed for several days. Since that time, students have been prominent in demonstrations organized by several other groups.

Land tenure issues were also apparent in outbreaks of public violence. Several incidents involved arrests by military and police personnel of militant landless peasants who were squatting on private or public land. In 1986 three squatter incidents were publicized in the local press; after military involvement in the shooting deaths of two peasants was revealed, the military made efforts to leave action in similar cases to the police. Local community leaders chosen to represent peasants in negotiations with the government over land tenure issues have also been subject to harassment by local police and judicial officials. Reports have appeared in both the national and international press about abuses of the rights of the nation's small, unassimilated Indian population. Most frequently, abuses were alleged to occur in land disputes. The abuses appeared to result from the relative powerlessness of the Indian population vis-à-vis local landowners and the remoteness of tribal areas.

The government controlled most print media, both television channels, and most radio stations and tolerated only limited criticism from the press. Major media usually avoided criticizing the president, his family, the military, and key civilian leaders. Topics related to official corruption and national security were also generally avoided, and coverage of the political opposition was strictly limited. Violations of these rules were answered with force eventually -- sometimes immediately -- by the government.

During the mid-1980s, the Roman Catholic Church emerged as a leader of antigovernment forces. The church was openly opposed to the Stroessner regime during the 1960s and early 1970s, until the government cracked down, sending troops into the private Catholic University on more than one occasion and eventually leaving it in shambles. The harsh government response was followed by several years of relative quiet from the church. During the mid-1980s, church officials offered to serve as a bridge for the reconciliation of the government and the opposition but were turned down by the government. Roman Catholic bishops also began to take a larger role in pressing for a transition to democracy and investigation of human rights abuses. The wave of antigovernment protests in 1986 and the government's forcible response, however, appeared to have inspired the church to take a more overt political stance. In May 1986, the archbishop of Asunción announced a series of protests that culminated in the ringing of church bells throughout the capital. Some 800 priests and members of religious orders, joined by members of the opposition parties and other people, led a march of silence in the capital in October 1987. The government permitted the crowd -- estimated at 40,000 -- to proceed peacefully. Provincial clergy, long active among the rural poor, also have been involved in land tenure disputes and in setting up peasant cooperative enterprises. Activities in both areas have been met with displeasure by local landowners and have resulted in clashes with the military and with local police. Following the government's closure in 1984 of ABC Color, the Roman Catholic Church's newspaper, Sendero, became an important source of information on opposition activities.

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 Factba.se.

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