Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Overview: Paraguay is a constitutional republic, guided by the democratic constitution of 1992, which replaced the highly authoritarian constitution that had been in force since 1967. The constitution provides for a division of government powers among three branches.

Executive Branch: The president, heading the executive branch, is directly elected to a five-year term and serves as both chief of state and head of government. The president appoints a Council of Ministers composed of 18 members to oversee the various government ministries. The president has the power to initiate legislation as well as veto it. Currently, Nicanor Duarte Frutos (elected 2003) serves as president and Luis Castiglioni as vice president. Neither the president nor the vice president may be reelected. Paraguay’s next presidential election is scheduled for 2008.

Legislative Branch: The Senate and Chamber of Deputies compose the bicameral legislative branch of the government. The Senate consists of 45 members elected by a national popular vote to serve five-year terms. The 80-member Chamber of Deputies is elected through a departmental vote, for the same tenure. Legislative elections coincide with the presidential election. Seats in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies are allocated according to the percentage of the vote received by each party. Following an election, the parties, through a closed party list, fill their allotted Senate and Chamber seats.

Corruption and political stalemates have eroded the popular status of the Congress. Since the return to democracy in 1992, the Congress has acted primarily as a negative check on the president’s agenda. Delay tactics and the selling and buying of votes are common practices, according to some experts.

Judicial Branch: Paraguay’s constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The Supreme Court of Justice serves as the country’s highest court, hearing appeals from the lower courts and deciding constitutional questions. Nine judges serve on the Supreme Court. Below the Supreme Court, Paraguay has five appellate courts: civil and commercial, criminal, labor, administrative, and juvenile. The lowest level of the legal hierarchy includes minor courts and justices of the peace who mediate lesser infractions. Minor courts are divided into four functional areas: civil and commercial, criminal, labor, and juvenile. Any person convicted of a crime at the minor court level may appeal to an appellate court and then to the Supreme Court. A council composed of members agreeable to both the president and the Congress has the responsibility of appointing judges. Paraguay’s military has its own court system.

Paraguay’s judicial branch was designed to operate free from political considerations. Few legal experts, however, would assert that this is actually the case. Politicians have long pressured judges to rule to their benefit. The Supreme Court experienced a purging in 2003–4 when the administration succeeded in replacing six of the court’s nine justices. Reformers hoped that the move would stem the corruption and political influence that have long plagued the court.

Administrative Divisions: The 1992 constitution added the departmental level to Paraguay’s political spectrum, dividing Paraguay into 17 departments and the capital city of Asunción. In terms of population, Central, Alto Paraná, and Paraguiarí are the largest departments.

Provincial and Local Government: Each department elects a governor and a departmental council. Additionally, the 1992 constitution delineated powers for Paraguay’s 228 municipalities. Local elections are scheduled for November 2005.

Judicial and Legal System: Paraguay’s legal system is based on Roman law as well as French and Argentine codes. The Penal and Criminal Procedures Code of 2000 requires expedited oral hearings for all persons accused of a crime. Prosecutors must bring charges against a detained person within 180 days. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Both the defense and prosecution may call witnesses. There is no trial by jury; the judge determines both the innocence or guilt and the punishment for any crimes committed.

Electoral System: Following President Alfredo Stroessner’s nearly 35-year authoritarian rule, democracy reemerged in Paraguay in 1989. General elections are held every five years as required by the constitution. Suffrage is universal at age 18 and compulsory up to age 75. In recent elections, nearly 70 percent of the eligible population voted. The president and vice president are elected by a simple majority of the popular vote. Members of the Congress are elected according to a system of proportional representation. Elections are conducted using secret ballots. In 2003, for the first time, Paraguay used electronic voting terminals to collect about half of all ballots cast. In light of past polling place irregularities, many believe that electronic voting will be less susceptible to manipulation.

Politics and Political Parties: Paraguay’s Congressional seats are awarded proportionally to the country’s political parties⎯according to the percentage of votes they receive in each election. Thus, political parties tend to overshadow individual politicians. The National Republican Association-Colorado Party (Asociación Nacional Republicana-Partido Colorado—ANR-PC)⎯has dominated modern Paraguayan politics since 1946 and following the reintroduction of democracy in 1992. The party’s candidate, Nicanor Duarte Frutos, won the most recent presidential election in 2003 with 37 percent of the vote. The ANR-PC was organized into a highly effective political machine under the Stroessner regime and continues to have a strong presence at the local and national level.

The Authentic Radical Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico⎯PLRA) serves as the leading opposition party. The party has resisted many of the economic liberalization plans fostered by Duarte. Other opposition parties include Beloved Fatherland (Patria Querida⎯PQ) and the National Union of Ethical Citizens (Unión Nacional de Ciudadanos Éticos⎯UNACE). Had opposition parties agreed on a compromise platform and candidate in 2003, the ANR-PC might have been ousted from power as a result of the lingering public resentment over the corrupt administration of the previous Colorado president, Luis González Macchi. Instead, division allowed the ANR-PC to maintain the presidency and its claim to be the world’s longest-serving political party.

Mass Media: As in many South American countries, radio is an important disseminator of information in Paraguay. More than 70 commercial and community radio stations broadcast daily across the nation. Paraguay also has four television stations and, as of 2004, about 750,000 households with televisions. The country has five major daily newspapers: ABC Color, Diario Noticias, Última Hora, La Nación, and Diario Popular. They have a combined circulation of about 150,000 copies daily. The government does not censure Internet or television content or restrict academic freedom.

Foreign Relations: Paraguay maintains close diplomatic relations with fellow Common Market of the South (Mercado Común del Sur⎯Mercosur) countries on economic, political, and social issues. In past years, Paraguay’s role as a conduit of black-market trade has caused tension with some Mercosur countries. Relations with the United States have been steady, especially as democratic reforms have flourished in Paraguay. The United States supported the ouster of authoritarian leader Stroessner and helped resolve the crisis that resulted from Paraguay’s contested 1998 election. Economic ties between the United States and Paraguay have rebounded after many years of decline during Paraguay’s economic collapse. The United States remains committed to providing some economic aid to Paraguay and to stopping money laundering in the region. Separating itself from its neighbors, Paraguay remains the only South American country to recognize Taiwan diplomatically.

Membership in International Organizations: Paraguay belongs to the United Nations and many of its specialized agencies. Paraguay is also a member of the Common Market of the South (Mercado Común del Sur—Mercosur), International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Labour Organization, International Monetary Fund, Latin American Economic System, Latin American Integration Association, Organization of American States, Rio Group, and World Bank.

Major International Treaties: Paraguay is a party to a number of significant treaties, including international agreements on biological weapons, chemical weapons, copyright, human rights, intellectual property, nuclear weapons non-proliferation, refugees, and torture. In the environmental arena, Paraguay is party to the following agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change (including the Kyoto Protocol), Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, and Wetlands.


Armed Forces Overview: Paraguay has a small, sparsely funded military. As of 2005, the armed forces totaled 10,010 active-duty personnel, including 1,900 conscripts, and about 164,500 reserves. Traditionally, the armed forces have focused more on quelling domestic uprisings than on protecting Paraguay from international threats. During Stroessner’s authoritarian regime, the military played an important role in suppressing dissent.

Foreign Military Relations: Paraguayan armed forces have conducted joint training with the United States. In 2005 Paraguay agreed to allow U.S. troops to enter Paraguay for up to 18 months, ostensibly to monitor the tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil for terrorist operations. U.S. troops will train their Paraguayan counterparts in methods to deter drug trafficking, government corruption, and terrorism. Before being granted access by Paraguay, the United States had been refused entry rights by both Brazil and Argentina.

External Threats: Paraguay has no direct external threats. Instead, money laundering, drug trafficking, and internal uprisings are the focus of Paraguay’s military forces.

Defense Budget: Paraguay spent US$53 million on defense in 2004, approximately 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Major Military Units: Paraguay’s military is composed of an army, navy, air force, and paramilitary police force. The army is the largest service with 7,600 personnel, including 1,500 conscripts. Six military regions cover the country, encompassing three corps headquarters and nine division headquarters (six infantry and three cavalry). Principal army units include nine infantry regiments, three horse cavalry regiments, three mechanized cavalry regiments, a Presidential Guard, 20 frontier detachments, three artillery groups, one air defense artillery group, and six engineer battalions. Army reserve forces include 14 infantry and four cavalry regiments. Without coastal access, rivers are the focus of Paraguay’s navy, which has 1,400 personnel, including 300 conscripts. Naval aviation has 100 personnel. The marines also operate as part of the navy, with a force of about 900, including 200 conscripts. The navy has bases in Asunción, Bahía Negra, and Ciudad del Este. The air force is the newest and smallest of the services, with 1,100 personnel, including 200 conscripts.

Major Military Equipment: The army has 12 M–4A3 tanks, 43 reconnaissance vehicles, and 10 armored personnel carriers, as well as more than 40 towed artillery pieces, 80 mortars, one LAW rocket launcher, one M–20 recoilless launcher, and 60 air defense guns. The navy inventory includes eight patrol craft as well as 20 smaller craft and five support and miscellaneous craft. Naval aviation has five planes and three helicopters. Paraguay’s air force operates a fleet of 12 combat aircraft, 5 transport planes, 10 liaison aircraft, 12 training aircraft, and 11 non-combat helicopters. Additionally, the air force maintains the presidential fleet, which consists of a DCH–6 and a Boeing 707. The air force shares another three planes with the army.

Military Service: Paraguay has compulsory military service for all males 18 years of age, consisting of either one year of service in the army or two years in the navy. The 1992 constitution created conscientious objector status for those opposed to serving in the military. Since 1993, 120,000 have been classified as conscientious objectors. Problems with the enlistment of soldiers under the age of 18 have led to stricter procedures verifying a recruit’s age. In 2003 the national military academy admitted females for the first time.

Paramilitary Forces: Paraguay’s paramilitary police force is larger than its military, with 14,800 personnel, including 4,000 conscripts.

Foreign Military Forces: The United States maintains a presence in Paraguay. Joint training and operations are planned, aiming to control the crime-ridden tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Neighboring countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil, have objected to Paraguay’s military partnership with the United States.

Military Forces Abroad: Paraguay has only a nominal military presence outside its own borders. In 2004 Paraguay sent 43 military observers to United Nations missions in Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Haiti, and Liberia.

Police: Paraguay’s main police force, the National Police, has long operated under the authority of the minister of interior. It has been underfunded and undertrained. Corruption has been rife. Reports have indicated that National Police officers were involved in drug-trafficking and kidnapping rings. The Penal and Criminal Procedures Code of 2000 worked to eliminate some of this corruption, but, despite a massive reorganization, widespread corruption persists.

Internal Threats: Violent internal dissent represents a far more dangerous threat to Paraguayan progress than does any external threat. Suggestions by the Colorado Party that it might favor amending the constitution in order to allow President Duarte to run for a second term in 2008 demonstrate the vulnerability of the 1992 constitution⎯despite the many improvements it brought to the country. Paraguay’s legacy of authoritarian government and violent politics has not been completely erased. In 2004 the daughter of a former president was kidnapped and killed, apparently by a radical leftist political group. Corruption in politics and the financial sector have resulted in declining popular trust of the government. President Duarte has made significant economic improvements, but economic and political polarization continues. Crime, including money laundering and the drug trade, must be brought under control to foster long-term, widespread economic growth. Like most South American countries, Paraguay also faces tensions between its indigenous population and those seeking liberalization of the society and economy.

Terrorism: Paraguay has been an active participant in the war against terrorism, backing counterterrorism initiatives by the United Nations and Organization of American States. Paraguay has commenced joint counterterrorism training with the United States. There is no evidence of terrorist activity or training in Paraguay, although the tri-border region continues to be a concern. The legislature has been slow to act in passing counterterrorism legislation sought by the administration. However, Paraguay has actively prosecuted terrorist fundraisers under present law. In 2004 a Hizballah fundraiser was convicted of tax evasion in Paraguay following his extradition from Brazil.

Human Rights: Paraguay meets most international standards for human rights. It affords its citizens the rights of freedom of the press, speech, and religion. Those suspected of committing crimes must have charges brought against them within 180 days, or have the charges dropped. All suspects have the right to a lawyer. However, prison conditions in Paraguay are abysmal. Asunción’s largest prison holds three times the number of prisoners for which it was designed. Moreover, it has only 120 guards for more than 2,500 prisoners. Prisoners are malnourished and often kept in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

The constitution guarantees the right of privacy and the protection of private property. However, the National Police have been accused of violating these rights at times. Additionally, the police have been accused of using torture to solicit information from suspects. Demonstrations of protest are permitted but are restricted to certain places and times in Asunción. Paraguayan workers have the right to unionize, protest, and strike. Nevertheless, the International Labour Organization has criticized Paraguay’s workers’ rights for various deficiencies, including required registration of unions, the 300-worker minimum to form a union, and the lack of measures to prevent anti-union discrimination. Union members in Paraguay have complained of their leaders being fired or suffering discrimination.

Violations of women’s rights have occurred most frequently in situations of sexual and domestic abuse. Spousal abuse is common and underreported, but it is a crime in Paraguay only if deemed habitual. Abuse and sexual abuse of children also are problems. The passage of the Child and Adolescent Law in 2001 required that departmental agencies be created to monitor and protect children’s rights, but so far the effect has been minimal. Trafficking in women and children from Paraguay remains a serious problem. In April 2004, Spanish police discovered 28 Paraguayan women trafficked to Spain for prostitution. Paraguay’s penal code outlaws trafficking of persons, but there have been no reported prosecutions of suspected traffickers.

Index for Paraguay:
Overview | Government


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