Paraguayan protests

Protests over the handling of COVID-19 and corruption in Paraguay.

Since 5 March 2021, protesters in Paraguay have taken to the streets to complain about the government’s inefficiency to deal with the pandemic. Anger for rising Covid-19 infections and deaths have coupled with corruption accusations surrounding the ruling Colorado Party, which has been in power for almost the last seven decades in the country.

Peaceful anti-government demonstrations have been joined by various sectors of the society including agricultural groups, students and political opposition. Protests have continued every day with occasional violent clashes with police which prompted president Mario Abdo Benítez to replace four cabinet ministers, including the cabinet, health and education ministers.

A researcher at the Centre for Analysis and Promotion of Paraguayan Economy (“CADEP”) commented, “It is hard to predict where these protests are heading. Unlike previous discontent, such as 2019 protests [which led to a failed impeachment of President Benítez after signing an unfavourable deal with Brazil over the Itaipú dam], these protests started spontaneously and the fact that different activist groups are jumping on board evidences that there is a clear lack of leadership.”

An Asunción-based political analyst agreed, “The fact that protests have been going on for more than two weeks show that discontent runs deeper than simple sporadic discontent caused by the pandemic.”

“The fact that protests have been going on for more than two weeks show that discontent runs deeper than simple sporadic discontent caused by the pandemic.”

Asunción-based political analyst

On 17 March 2021, the Chamber of Deputies controlled by President’s Benítez party blocked an impeachment process launched by the opposition parties. Given the strength of the Colorado Party in Paraguay, government change looks unlikely in the short term as long as former President and businessman Horacio Cartes, his internal rival at the Colorado Party, continues to support President Benítez.

It is important to understand the powerful control that the Colorado Party has over Paraguay, as the political analyst outlined, “The grip that the [Colorado] party has over the country is something that can only be compared to the one that the PRI had over Mexico in the past. The opposition groups are not united but perhaps they could unite to force President Benítez out of office either through continuing protests or in the presidential elections in 2023, as far away as they might seem.”

At present, an internal challenge to President Benítez is perhaps more likely than the opposition uniting and winning the elections, according to the researcher, “[Benítez]’s position as head of the executive will remain strong as long as his own Colorado Party does not see him as a liability. How he deals with protests will be crucial. If his position weakens this provides more incentive for his internal rival in the party, [former president Horacio] Cartes, to question his leadership.”

“Inequality, impunity and corruption of public officials are the most pressing problems in Paraguay and they have been hidden by GDP growth.”

Revered business executive, Paraguay

A revered business executive is less concerned about the protests of today but more concerned around the underlying challenges that the country faces on the medium term, “If the country has experienced significant discontent with the government over the last four years while the country has been performing well in economic terms, things could get grim in the context of a global crisis. Inequality, impunity and corruption of public officials are the most pressing problems in Paraguay and they have been hidden by GDP growth. If they are not addressed, the future does not bode well for Paraguayans or for foreign investors looking to make the most of opportunities in a young growing country.”

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