With a Wary Eye on the Recent Past, Paraguayans Continue to Protest

Photo by Male Bogado originally published in DX and used with permission.

Osmar Cáceres, a reporter with the Paraguayan news outlet DX, contributed to this article. 

Two days after demonstrators set fire to Congress, thrusting Paraguay to the center of international news, Paraguayans are tallying the damage, discussing the fragility of the nation's democracy and the constitutional amendment that started it all, and are looking with concern at the police repression that brings back painful memories of the Stronista dictatorship (1954-1989).

What originally set protesters into the streets was the decision by Paraguay's Congress, taken in a parallel, secret session, to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow the re-election of President Horacio Cartes after 2018. The change directly challenges a different, older amendment made to the Paraguayan Constitution after Paraguay's return to democracy in the 1990s that prohibits re-elections of presidents or vice presidents “in any situation”.

For many, the move is a step toward entrenching an administration that shows little regard for Paraguay's most vulnerable communities and is already considered authoritarian:

Cartes, when will you understand that Paraguay is not one of your private businesses?! Paraguay does not belong to you, it belongs to all of its citizens. Moron.#Enmienda

International calls for dialogue

At the urging of international leaders, government representatives agreed to open dialogue with opponents of the amendment. However, the head of state made it clear that he will not back down from the possibility of being re-elected and critics will refuse to meet if the re-election proposal is not ruled out completely.

Meanwhile, protests continue and different groups are calling for the population to take to the streets despite strong police repression over the weekend and the latent threat of new police interventions. The authorities announced tighter controls, particularly against those who attempt to reach the centrally located capital, Asunción, from anywhere else in the country. The goal, they say, is to stop “vandalism” via “preventive” measures.

Media outlets such as Kurtural have been sharing news and information from other partner media sites like El Surtidor (The Supplier), such as the tweet below with an image alerting readers to the government's surveillance capabilities:

Tweet: To keep in mind while organizing: the Paraguayan government has software to spy on your computer or phone, according to @citizenlab.

Image: FinFisher is a surveillance software that can be installed on computers and cellphones inadvertently. The Paraguayan state bought this software, and it could help it to violate our right to privacy.

Repression with a familiar, bitter taste

The number of injured as a result of police actions have circulated on social media. Independent news outlets and political organizations have reported different forms of abuse. The repression reached a peak with the police killing of Rodrigo Quintana, a young opposition party activist with the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA – Authentic Radical Liberal Party).

Kurtural shared a victim count:

Tweet: The repression stats over the weekend in Paraguay, including the assassination of PLRA leader Rodrigo Quintana.

Image: 1 deputy seriously injured by the police, 1 political party trampled by the police, 1 person murdered by the police, 211 people arrested without a warrant, 39 people wounded by the police (just in the Hospital del Trauma), 12 journalists wounded by the police.

The media organization also kept a steady broadcast of key events after the storming of Congress:

Tweet: A recount of the last hours of organizing and repression in Paraguay after #enmienda vote behind closed doors

Image: Police repression in Asuncion. April 1 until 3 p.m.
1. After the fire at Congress, police stormed the plaza. Protesters withdraw.
2. Police suppress crowds with rubber bullets and firearms at different points in the center of Asuncion.
3. Police enter the headquarters of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party. They murder Rodrigo Quintana, a young leader, with a shotgun.
4. At the police station, criminal complaints are filed against more than 200 people who have been arrested without a warrant.
5. At least 12 journalists are reported injured.
6. The interior minister and the police commander are sacked.

Meanwhile, reporter Veleto for news site DX recapped some new facts and confusing elements:

La “parafernalia” con la que se desarrollaron los hechos de aquel día y aquella noche (cientos de apresados sin orden judicial, represión a manifestantes, y hechos de conocimiento nacional e internacional) […] generaron muchas dudas al principio […] Y las versiones oficiales, solo han generado más dudas y [han profundizado] la desconfianza hacia los ya poco fiables organismos de seguridad del Estado.

The “paraphernalia” surrounding the day's and evening's events (hundreds arrested without a warrant, repression of demonstrators, and other events that made national and international news) […] create a lot of suspicion from the start  […] And the official versions have only raised more questions and [have deepened] doubt surrounding already untrustworthy state security agencies.

He added:

Pero todo quedó “más claro” cuando vimos las grabaciones del circuito cerrado del local del PLRA [partido de oposición donde fue asesinado Quintana…] Muy por el contrario de las versiones oficiales, se vio a una Policía Nacional harto-agresiva y con una intencionalidad desconocida. Digo “más claro”, porque en la medida en que más vamos conociendo sobre los hechos y las personas involucradas y las condiciones anteriores y posteriores al asesinato, notamos que poco o nada sabemos sobre el oscuro trasfondo de todo esto.

But everything became “clearer” when we saw the footage of PLRA office's [opposition party where Quintana was killed…] closed circuit camera. Contrary to the official version, we saw a highly aggressive National Police with unclear intentions. I say it got “clearer” because the more we learn about the events and people involved and the conditions before and after the murder, the more we realize that we know little or next nothing about the sinister story behind of all this.

Political organization Kuñu Pyrenda published allegations of mistreatment of protesters by the police on its main website and shared one of the most widespread concerns in online conversations: that the violence was similar to that experienced under Alfredo Stroessner's 35-year-long dictatorship, considered one of the most brutal in South America's history:

[…] repudiamos la detención arbitraria de personas, la violencia de género hacia las mujeres detenidas que denunciaron haber sido desnudadas en dependencias policiales y la violencia ejercida hacia las personas LGTBI […] Es el mismo terror desatado en los atropellos a las comunidades campesinas con desalojos violentos, en los ataques a comunidades indígenas y en las violaciones de derechos humanos bajo múltiples circunstancias […] La historia nacional está cargada de sucesos violentos que han marcado el devenir social y político de nuestro pueblo […] Expresamos nuestra grave preocupación ante el resquebrajamiento de la posibilidad de convivencia democrática y pacífica en el Paraguay, en riesgo permanente por la pugna de intereses políticos y económicos mezquinos

[…] We condemn the arbitrary detention, and the gendered violence towards women detainees who report being stripped nude while in police custody and violence towards LGBTI people […] It is the same abusive terror unleashed on peasant communities during violent evictions, attacks on indigenous communities and human rights violations under many circumstances […] There are numerous cases of violent events in our nation's history that have marked the social and political development of our people […] We express serious concern at the breakdown of the possibility of democratic and peaceful coexistence in Paraguay, which is permanently endangered by competing petty political and economic interests

Under the hashtag #DictaduraNuncaMás (#DictatorshipNeverAgain), social networks stressed the importance of vigilance in cases of abuses of power which, they argue, launched the rebellions:

This guy [President Horacio Cartes] is more dangerous than Alfredo Stroessner” Diego Garcete, La Colmena councilman.

With no judicial oversight, in the purest Stroessner style. In the Esso on Chile and Azara.

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