Paraguay is witnessing an explosion of mass protest over government mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. With hospitals overwhelmed and infections soaring, teachers refused orders for a mandatory return to classes on March 2. The following day, nurses, doctors, patients and their families demonstrated outside the main hospital in the capital Asunción to protest the lack of vaccines, protective equipment and basic medications. On March 5, widespread protests escalated to clashes with the riot police, leaving one demonstrator dead and several injured. President Mario Abdo Benítez of the conservative Colorado Party offered dialogue and forced the resignation of several cabinet members, including health minister Julio Mazzoleni. But protesters are continuing to mobilize, demanding the resignation of Abdo himself and his entire government, under the slogan !Que se vayan todos! (Throw them all out!)
An appeals court in Rome sentenced 24 to life in prison on July 8, including former senior officials of the military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. The officials were found to have been involved in Operation Condor, under which opponents of military rule were tracked down and eliminated across South America's borders in the 1970s and early '80s. The exact number of people who were killed through this operation is not known. The case before the court focused on the disappearance of 43 people, 23 of whom were Italian citizens. The prosecutors applied the universal jurisdiction precedent from the 1998 arrest in London of Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet. They also referenced the 2016 conviction of leaders of Argentina's military dictatorship, which confirmed the existence of Operation Condor for the first time.
Paraguay's Senate on March 31 approved a constitutional amendment lifting the one-term rule for presidents. Put in place by Paraguay's 1992 Constitution following long years of dictatorship, the current rules limit the president to one five-year term. President Horacio Cartes is seeking to lift the one-term limit, a measure supported in the Senate by 25 of 45 legislators. The vote will now go to the Chamber of Deputies, where 44 of the 80 members belong to the president's Colorado Party. If approved there, the vote will go to a national referendum. In the interim, protests have erupted outside Congress, with at least one protestor reported killed and the Congressional building burned.
Several hundred people marched July 6 in Asunción, the Paraguayan capital, to demand the acquittal of 11 landless peasants charged in deadly violence almost exactly four years ago in the rural community of Curuguaty. Verdicts are expected this coming week in the bloody incident, which supporters of the defendants call a "massacre." The violence erupted when police moved to evict the peasants from private lands they were occupying. Of the 17 killed, 11 were peasants. In the aftermath, Paraguay's left-populist president Fernando Lugo was removed from power in what his supporters called a "coup." Prosecutors are calling for prison terms of up to 30 years for the defendants, while their supporters say they only acted in self-defense when set upon by police. Alicia Amarilla of the National Coordinator of Rural and Indigenous Women (CONAMURI) called the proceedings a show trial in which "not a shred of evidence" has been presented against the defendants. She said they have been accused "because of their ideology, for having fought for land." (Ultima Hora, July 9; EFE, July 6)
A total of five Latin American governments had recalled their ambassadors to Israel as of July 29 in an escalation of diplomatic protests against an operation the Israeli military had been carrying out in the Palestinian territory of Gaza since July 8. With the Palestinian death toll passing 1,500—including more than 300 children—centrist and even rightwing Latin American governments started joining left and center-left government in distancing themselves from the main US ally in the Middle East.
A court in Salto de Guairá, Paraguay, on April 9 refused to grant house arrest to five imprisoned campesinos held since 2012 despite having never been brought to trial or convicted. The denial of their petition came on the 55th day that the five prisoners have been on hunger strike. The five, Adalberto Castro, Felipe Benítez, Néstor Castro, Rubén Villalba and Amado Quintana, were arrested during the June 2012 violent eviction of peasant squatters at Curuguaty, in which 11 campesinos and five police offers lost their lives. The five, who deny their guilt in any slayings, have been tranferred against their will to a military hospital. (Prensa Latina, April 9; Radio Mundo Real, March 14)
The Aché indigenous people of Paraguay on April 8 brought suit in a court in Argentina demanding reparations for "genocide" carried out under the late Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. The Aché are being represented by Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón, and chose to bring the case in Argentina under the doctrine of "universal jurisdiction" for crimes against humanity, asserting that justice is not possible in Paraguay's own courts. "We still feel enormous pain in our hearts and minds," said Aché leader Ceferino Kreigi Duarte in a press conference announcing the suit. "For this reason we today demand the Paraguayan state must answer for all this damage, not only to our community but to all the peoples of Paraguay who were victims of the dictatorship." Under Stroessner's 1954-1989 rule, the Aché people, who live in the riverine forests of Paraguay's east, saw their population diminish by 60% due to forced relocations, seizures of traditional lands, and abduction of the young to serve as virtual slaves in domestic labor. Most of the population plunge took place in the first five years of the 1970s. (AP via Excélsior, Mexico; EFE via Radio Caracol, Colombia, April 8)
Starting on the evening of March 25, thousands of Paraguayan unionists, campesinos and students participated in a 24-hour general strike to protest the economic policies of President Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara. Union sources said the action shut down transportation, schools and most businesses in Asunción. This was the country's first general strike in 20 years, and the first major demonstration against the government since President Cartes' inauguration last August. Cartes, a member of the rightwing Colorado Party, was elected in April 2013; the previous elected president, the left-leaning former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo, was removed from office by Congress in a de facto coup on June 22, 2012, one year before the end of his term.