Paraguay

By Holly Hearn

Introduction

Flag_of_ParaguayParaguay is ranked 111th out of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. The ranking is only two spots lower than in 2015; however, Paraguay has experienced a significant drop since 2002 when the country was ranked 32 of 134.[1] Freedom House describes the press as “Partly Free” and places it in the lower-median range for its legal, political and economic environments in 2016.[2] Corruption in government and drug trade near border areas have created a dangerous environment for investigative journalism in Paraguay. The country’s long history of revolution and c
onsistently turbulent political climate has contributed to its less than favorable conditions concerning free speech and press.

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History

Paraguay is a small landlocked country in South America bordered by Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. Formally known as Republica de Paraguay, nearly seven million people live in the country which is close to half the size of Texas.[3] The economy of Paraguay is largely service-based, making up close to 60 percent of the GDP, with the remaining 40 percent equally divided between industry and agriculture. Because Paraguay is landlocked, it has not developed in the same ways as most countries with ports for trade.[4]

A representative democracy was adopted with the 1992 constitution which also separated the powers of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. The current Paraguayan government affords sovereignty to the people, a stark contrast from past authoritarian regimes governed by dictators. In the 16th century Spanish colonists explored the territory in the interest of expanding the Spanish Empire. In Paraguay: The Personalist Legacy authors Riordan Roett and Richard Scott Sack write that “poverty and isolation had wide implications for Paraguay. The country became a poor, neglected colonial outpost.”[5] In May 1811 Paraguay declared its independence from Spain and the country existed under “El Supremo,” Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, Paraguay’s first dictator until 1840. There were few mediums for mass communication and under Francia “fear destroyed free speech.”[6] From 1841 to 1954 Paraguay was ruled by 47 different men, over half of whom were deposed from office via military coup. For the next 34 years, General Alfredo Stroessner ruled as dictator of the Stronato regime until 1989. The regime was incredibly repressive to incite fear in the people and “give a clear message that political opposition and dissent would not be tolerated” which lead to a “depoliticizing of civil society” according to Peter Lambert in “The Regime of Alfredo Stroessner.”[7] Stroessner was ousted in a military coup led by General Andres Rodriguez who worked to transition Paraguay to a democracy by implementing the Constitution of 1992 which is still in effect.

While voting is technically compulsory in Paraguay, it is not heavily enforced. Very few indigenous people and ethnic minorities hold positions in the government. The current president of Paraguay is Horacio Cartes, a businessman elected in 2013 as a member of the center-right Colorado Party. The Paraguayan government continues to deal with corruption, especially between government officials and drug cartels. Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Paraguay at 123 out of 186 countries in the index where lower-ranked countries are “plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary.”[8] While Paraguay has largely reformed its laws to trend away from authoritarianism and towards democracy, corruption in the culture of government has restricted freedom of speech and press in a less formal way.

Free Speech

The Constitution of Paraguay protects free speech and expression in two articles. Article 25 titled “Of the Expression of Personality” guarantees all persons “the right to freely express their personality, to creativity, and to forge their own identity and image” as well as ideological pluralism. [9] Article 26 protects freedom of expression and the press, guaranteeing “the diffusion of thoughts and of opinions, without any censorship, with no other limitations.”[10] A freedom of assembly is outlined in Article 32, which protects peaceful assemblies “without weapons and with licit ends, without the need of a permit, as well as the right not to be obligated to participate in such acts.” However, the article does allow the government to “only regulate its exercise in places of public traffic, [and] at certain hours, preserving the rights of third parties and the public order established by the law.”[11] Articles 25, 26 and 32 are particularly valuable and necessary to facilitate political dialogues, especially considering Paraguay’s history of individual censorship.

While individuals are afforded a right to free speech of the Constitution of Paraguay, the protections of Article 25 were blatantly disregarded in the case of Ricardo Canese v. Paraguay. Ricardo Canese ran against Juan Carlos Wasmosy in Paraguay’s 1993 presidential election and very vocally opposed Wasmosy for ties to former dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Canese was quoted in the ABC Color and Noticias newspapers accusing Wasmosy of securing chairmanship of CONEMPA, a hydroelectric construction monopoly, because of support from Stroessner. In 1992 CONEMPA filed a criminal complaint for injuria (slander) against Canese while Wasmosy did not press charges. In 1994 Canese was convicted and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, a hefty fine, and was subject to travel restrictions. The ruling, made soon after the Constitution of 1992 was enacted, violated Canese’s right to ideological pluralism outlined in Article 25 and his right to “diffusion of thoughts” in Article 26. In 2004 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) found the punishments to be “unnecessary and excessive,” stressing the importance of freedom of political expression, especially during an election, and the court ultimately ruled in favor of Canese ordering reparations to be paid. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression notes, “The Court recalled that freedom of expression has two equally relevant dimensions that must be guaranteed simultaneously: an individual dimension that protects the right of the individual to express their own thoughts, and a social dimension that protects the collective right to receive information.”[12]

Poor economic conditions in Paraguay have led to recent protests by Campesinos, peasant farmers, who can not afford basic necessities of life. On Feb. 13, 2017 Campesinos assembled outside of Tax Minister Santiago Pena’s house, calling for President Horacio Cartes’ resignation. Telesur reported that the demonstration “was closely watched by police forces, who closed the street leading to the minister’s house about one block before. The blockade provoked more tensions, as campesinos claimed the street was public, with the police finally relenting and letting them approach the house.”[13] As citizens upset with their living conditions under President Cartes, the campesinos actively and vocally reject Cartes’ promotion of a constitutional reform that would allow him to run again. Article 32 of the Paraguayan Constitution protects protests like the campesino’s which are peaceful and on public property.

The current constitution of Paraguay affords much more individual freedom of expression than previous constitutions. Under previous authoritarian regimes, protests like the Campesinos’ probably would have ended with many arrests and violence. Similarly, figures like Canese would have suffered even harsher consequences for publicly voicing opposition. While conditions have improved for individual free speech, Paraguay’s press continues to be restricted in a number of ways.

Free Press

Freedom of the press has evolved slowly throughout Paraguay’s history. The first newspaper El Paraguayo Independiente was established in 1845 and edited by dictator Carlos Antonio López. López also enacted the first Paraguayan constitution “which states that nobody may own a printing company without first receiving permission from the ‘Supreme Government’” Benjamin Fernández Bogado writes in “Between Silent Tradition and Noisy Democracy,”[14] Paraguay’s constitution has evolved to include eight articles protecting freedom of the press; however, corrupt officials and pressures outside of the administration, such as drug traffickers, censor the press in informal ways.

While the Paraguayan government does not “own” media outlets as it has in the past, bribery is not uncommon and a corrupt form of prior restraint plagues media. Journalists are often intimidated or face legal roadblocks when investigating political figures and scandal. According to Index on Censorship, in 2010 radio host Juan Pío Balbuena’s program was cancelled for refusing to censor his comments on Javier Zacarías Irún, a local politician in Cuidad del Este. The owner of the station made a deal with Zacarías which prohibited the station from criticizing the rising politician.[15] Article 28 of Paraguay’s constitution concerns one’s right to be informed, allowing persons to “receive true, responsible and equitable information.”[16] Bribery is a way to illegally enforce prior restraint which Article 29 of Paraguay’s Constitution prohibits with its statement that “the practice of journalism, in all its forms, is free and is not subject to prior authorization.”[17] Bribery like Zacarías’ is unconstitutional and muddles the truth, restricting the free flow of information throughout Paraguay.

On March 13, 2017 Article 19, an organization dedicated to freedom of speech and press, called on the Juvenile Court of Paraguay to “to consider international standards on free expression” in the case of TEDIC, a small human rights organization.[18] TEDIC published a chat from a Facebook messenger chat where a group of men discussed sexually abusing a journalist to “correct” her sexual orientation. The chat was published in an article by TEDIC and the journalist posted it to her Twitter account. One of the men in the group filed a lawsuit against TEDIC and the journalist arguing the article damaged his honor, reputation, and privacy. The case deals with individuals’ right to privacy, the relevance of the information to the public interest, freedom of expression, and women’s rights. Article 27 of the constitution holds that “[t]he use of mass communication is of public interest; in consequence, their functioning may not be closed or suspended. The press lacking responsible direction will not be admitted.”[19] The article is purposefully vague when mentioning “responsible direction” as to allow for lawsuits, such as this one, to control content produced by the press.

In an effort to combat corruption with transparency, President Cartes signed Paraguay’s first Access to Public Information and Transparency Law which took effect in 2015. Freedom House’s 2015 country report explains the law allows citizens access to “salaries, official travel, contracts and any information not designated as secret.”[20] While the law does work to hold officials accountable, little is being done within the government to prevent corruption from the start.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists “the border of Paraguay and Brazil is among the most dangerous areas for journalists in Latin America.”[21] Cándido Figueredo Ruíz is a reporter for Paraguay’s ABC Color newspaper and is a 2015 winner of the CPJ International Press Freedom Award. Ruíz has lived under 24-hour police protection for over 20 years because of the dangerous nature of his work reporting on organized crime and drug trafficking. CPJ reports that “at least five journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work in Paraguay since 1992.”[22] The dangerous nature of journalism in Paraguay, even outside legal roadblocks, can be discouraging to journalists and is a hindrance to a free press.

Critical Comparison

The United States is ranked notably higher at 41 on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index compared to Paraguay’s spot at 111.[23] Historically, the United States has been more ready to protect speech in the interest of furthering democracy. Paraguay’s systems of government from its conception have not valued discourse in this same way; however, since democratization with the Constitution of 1992, Paraguay has made strides toward protecting speech.

Paraguay’s laws regarding defamation of public officials are much more restricting of speech than those of the United States. New York Times Co. v Sullivan is the 1964 United States Supreme Court (USSC) case which made it extremely difficult for public figures to win libel suits. The case established the standard of “actual malice” which includes “knowledge that the information was false” or was published “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”[24] The USSC maintained the same commitment to the First Amendment with the 1988 ruling in Hustler v. Falwell, which held that public figures may not recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress without proving the statements met the “actual malice” standard and the statements were false.[25] Both decisions protect speech which may be false regarding public officials because the ultimate goal of dialogue in democracy is to reach truth. These USSC cases can be contrasted with Ricardo Canese v. Paraguay where Canese was found guilty of slander of a public official in the 1994 ruling. While Canese was ultimately exonerated and paid reparations, judicial precedents in Paraguay do not carry the same weight as they do in America.

The laws in Paraguay protect speech with language similar to that in the United States constitution. Unfortunately, corruption within the Paraguayan government and dangers resulting from cartels, censor the press and speech through fear. Paraguay’s history of censorship has also discouraged the free exchange of ideas and dialogue. Benjamin Bogado explains that “the authoritarian tradition permeated every part of society, making silence and self-restriction part of the national culture.” [26] The “silence and self-restriction” engrained in the mores of Paraguayans is the very effect USSC justices have worked to prevent by consistently defending the First Amendment.

Both Paraguay and the United States have vague laws regarding freedom of the press and speech; however, while the USSC typically interprets the law to expand what is considered protected speech, the Paraguayan government tends to use the broadness to censor unwanted content. The 1969 landmark USSC case, Brandenburg v. Ohio established inflammatory speech is protected unless it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”[27] In contrast, in 2012 nearly 200 small community radio stations were threatened to be dismantled for “inciting crime.” The threats came just after President Fernando Lugo’s removal from office and Federico Franco assumed the position. Reporters Without Borders criticized the restrictive actions because they “directly serve the interests of a disputed government. Community radio station were born out of protest movements and most support the popular protests that began with the president’s removal from office.”[28] While “inciting crime” is a vague accusation, it is one that justifies restricting media in accordance with Article 27 which states that “press lacking responsible direction will not be admitted.”[29] Paraguay has the ability to improve freedoms afforded to speech under the current constitution, but the corruption within the government is repressive of such progress.

Finally, the United States as a region is more stable and safe than Paraguay. The United States has had the same constitution since 1789 and nearly every transfer of executive power has been peaceful. A tradition of free speech has created an American culture rich with discourse. Additionally, technology is more accessible in the United States which allows information to be accessed and disseminated more easily.

Conclusion

Paraguay’s many rulers and regimes have undoubtedly shaped both the mores of the people and the current political environment. Considering its history as Latin America’s longest and most stable authoritarian dictatorship, Paraguay transitioned to democracy rather nicely with the Constitution of 1992. Because of past regimes repressive of speech, the ability to freely and openly engage in political discourse is all the more important. Paraguayan citizens and journalists must combat both censorship and corruption in their quest for free speech and press in the modern age.

This essay was last updated April 30, 2017

[1] Reporters Without Borders. “Paraguay.” 2016 World Press Freedom Index. https://rsf.org/en/paraguay (accessed February 20, 2017).

[2] Freedom House. “Paraguay.” 2016 Country Report. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2016/paraguay (accessed February 20, 2017).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook 2013-14. US Government Printing Office, 2013. 51st ed. 544-545. Print.

[5] Roett, Riordan and Sacks, Richard Scott. Paraguay: The Personalist Legacy. Westview Press: San Fransisco, 1991. 16. Print.

[6] Ibid., 23

[7] Lambert, Peter. “The Regime of Alfredo Stroessner.” The Transition to Democracy in Paraguay, edited by Peter Lambert and Andrew Nickson, St. Martin’s Press Inc., 1997, 3-23.

[8]Transparency International. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.” http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016 (accessed March 26, 2017)

[9] Paraguay’s Constitution of 1992. Art. 25

[10] Ibid., Art. 26

[11] Ibid., Art. 32

[12] Columbia Global Freedom of Expression. “Ricardo Canese v. Paraguay.” https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/ricardo-canese-v-paraguay/ (accessed March 26, 2017).

[13] Hora, Ultima. “Paraguay’s Campesinos March to Demand Resignation of President” Telesur. February 13, 2017.

[14] Bogado, Benjamin Fernández. “Between Silent Tradition and Noisy Democracy.” ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America. Summer 2011. Web. February 20, 2017.

[15] Index on Censorship. “Bribery and censorship in Paraguay.” https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2010/07/bribery-censorship-paraguay/ (accessed March 18, 2017).

[16] Paraguay’s Constitution of 1992. Art. 28

[17] Ibid., Art. 29

[18] Article 19. “Paraguay: Court must consider freedom of speech in gender-based online abuse case.” https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/38669/en/paraguay:-court-must-consider-freedom-of-speech-in-gender-based-online-abuse-case (accessed March 18, 2017)

[19] Paraguay’s Constitution of 1992. Art. 27

[20] Freedom House. “Paraguay.” 2015 Country Report. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/paraguay (accessed March 29, 2017).

[21] Committee to Protect Journalists. “Police attempt to remove Paraguayan journalist’s security detail.” September 8, 2016. https://cpj.org/2016/09/police-attempt-to-remove-paraguayan-journalists-se.php (accessed March 18, 2019).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Reporters Without Borders. “United States.” 2016 World Press Freedom Index. https://rsf.org/en/united-states (accessed March 29, 2017)

[24] New York Times v. Sullivan. 376 U.S. 254. Supreme Court of the United States. 1964. WestLawNext. Thomson Reuters, n.d. Web. March, 2017.

[25] Hustler v. Falwell. 485 U.S. 46. Supreme Court of the United States. 1988. WestLawNext. Thomson Reuters, n.d. Web. 21 March, 2017.

[26] Bogado, Benjamin Fernández. “Between Silent Tradition and Noisy Democracy.” ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America. Summer 2011. Web. February 20, 2017.

[27] Brandenburg v. Ohio. 395 U.S. 444. Supreme Court of the United States. 1969. WestLawNext. Thomson Reuters, n.d. Web. 10 February, 2017.

[28] Reporters Without Borders. “Community radio stations face crackdown for ‘inciting crime’.” August 14, 2012. https://rsf.org/en/news/community-radio-stations-face-crackdown-inciting-crime (accessed March 18, 2017).

[29] Paraguay’s Constitution of 1992. Art. 27

Work Cited

Article 19. “Paraguay: Court must consider freedom of speech in gender-based online abuse case.” https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/38669/en/paraguay:-court-must-consider-freedom-of-speech-in-gender-based-online-abuse-case (accessed March 18, 2017)

Bogado, Benjamin Fernández. “Between Silent Tradition and Noisy Democracy.” ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America. Summer 2011. Web. February 20, 2017.

Brandenburg v. Ohio. 395 U.S. 444. Supreme Court of the United States. 1969. WestLawNext. Thomson Reuters, n.d. Web. 10 February, 2017.

Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook 2013-14. US Government Printing Office, 2013. 51st ed. 544-545. Print.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression. “Ricardo Canese v. Paraguay.” https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/ricardo-canese-v-paraguay/ (accessed March 26, 2017).

Committee to Protect Journalists. “Police attempt to remove Paraguayan journalist’s security detail.” September 8, 2016. https://cpj.org/2016/09/police-attempt-to-remove-paraguayan-journalists-se.php (accessed March 18, 2019).

Freedom House. “Paraguay.” 2015 Country Report. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/paraguay (accessed March 29, 2017).

Freedom House. “Paraguay.” 2016 Country Report. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2016/paraguay (accessed February 20, 2017).

Hora, Ultima. “Paraguay’s Campesinos March to Demand Resignation of President” Telesur. February 13, 2017.

Hustler v. Falwell. 485 U.S. 46. Supreme Court of the United States. 1988. WestLawNext. Thomson Reuters, n.d. Web. 21 March, 2017.

Index on Censorship. “Bribery and censorship in Paraguay.” https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2010/07/bribery-censorship-paraguay/ (accessed March 18, 2017).

Lambert, Peter. “The Regime of Alfredo Stroessner.” The Transition to Democracy in Paraguay, edited by Peter Lambert and Andrew Nickson, St. Martin’s Press Inc., 1997, 3-23.

New York Times v. Sullivan. 376 U.S. 254. Supreme Court of the United States. 1964. WestLawNext. Thomson Reuters, n.d. Web. March, 2017.

Paraguay’s Constitution of 1992. Art. 22-32

Reporters Without Borders. “Community radio stations face crackdown for ‘inciting crime’.” August 14, 2012. https://rsf.org/en/news/community-radio-stations-face-crackdown-inciting-crime (accessed March 18, 2017).

Reporters Without Borders. “Paraguay.” 2016 World Press Freedom Index. https://rsf.org/en/paraguay (accessed February 20, 2017).

Roett, Riordan and Sacks, Richard Scott. Paraguay: The Personalist Legacy. Westview Press: San Fransisco, 1991. 16. Print.

Transparency International. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.” http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016 (accessed March 26, 2017)

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