Fear Of Dictatorship Spurs Violence In Paraguay

Protesters took to the streets in Paraguay after the Senate approved a bill to amend the country’s constitution. President Horacio Cartes is seeking to alter the 1992 constitution to allow presidents to run for a second term. Currently, presidents in Paraguay are limited to one 5-year term. Members of the opposition have called this an attempted coup, in a country that has not forgotten 35 years of rule under dictator General Alfredo Stroessner.

From 1954 until 1989 Paraguay suffered under the military rule of Stroessner after the General took power in a coup. Following his removal, and during the transition to democracy, the country included strict limits to power in the constitution to prevent any one leader from gaining the same level of control. The single-term limit on presidents is central to this, and many see the move to amend the constitution as a threat to the country’s democratic institutions.

Following the vote in Senate, demonstrators began protesting in the streets. The parliament building in Asuncion was stormed, windows were broken, and fires were set. Police used rubber bullets and water cannons on demonstrators in an attempt to disperse the crowds. One protester, Rodrigo Quintana, was killed when a rubber bullet struck him in the head. Police say more than 200 protesters were detained and many demonstrators, politicians, and police were injured in what some claim was the worst violence since the country’s 1992 transition to democracy.

Support for the bill comes from the President’s Colorado Party, as well as from supporters of past presidents who would like to see their candidates able to run again. The bill must now pass through the Chamber of Deputies and a popular referendum. It is expected to pass the lower house, where the Colorado Party holds a majority of seats, though the vote was delayed until the situation calms down.

Opponents of the bill claim that the Senate vote was illegal and are concerned that final approval of the bill will create a dangerous situation for Paraguay. After experiencing life under a dictator, any move toward concentration of power can be seen as an attempt to move the country back in that direction. Some members of the opposition are now calling for the President to be removed from power.

The people of Paraguay are resisting falling back into a dictatorship and are relying on the political process to protect their rights and freedoms. At the same time, other countries are concerned about what this means for the region in a period of international uncertainty. The violence in Paraguay and unrest in other Latin American countries is a stark reminder of how peace and stability depend upon strong democratic political institutions. It is crucial that the democratic process is respected and followed in order for countries like Paraguay to avoid violence and unrest in the future.

Laura Friesen