Ohio State University

Hope in Paraguay by Mohamed Farah @ The Ohio State University

A leftist government, a coup orchestrated by the right, and somehow, after all of this: an election. This may sound like a political thriller set to hit the box office, but this is the political reality of Paraguay. Elections are imminent, set to take place on April 22nd. The stakes are big: Democracy, Freedom, and land distribution.

Here is some context that might be useful.

In 2012, the election of Fernando Lugo ended a 61-year period that the Colorado Party held the highest offices of Paraguay. Lugo, a leftist, won the election with the support of the Campesinos(landless farmers, who make up about 60% of the population). Upon taking office, it was assumed Lugo would start enacting policies that would address the fact that 2% of the population owned 80% of Paraguay’s land.

Later that year Big Agriculture was worried when 60 Campesinos occupied land. The protesters were forcibly removed. 11 Campesinos and 6 police officers were killed  in the process. The Right said President Lugo had blood on his hand.

The Senate held a short trial, and removed Fernando Lugo from office. The more centrist vice president and a fierce critic of Lugo, Fernando Franco, was sworn in. Elections were held again 2013. Horacio Cartes from the Colorado Party(Yes, the party that was in power for 61 years before Lugo) won and assumed office.

After the parliamentary coup,  pressure from Paraguay’s neighbors and even the catholic church was cast onto Paraguay’s new leaders. Knowing this Cartes tried to legitimize his  presidency through a secret parliamentary vote that amended the constitution to allow him to run.

Fast forward to a week ago and Senator Desiree Masi(Progressive Democratic Party) called for Cartes to face trial in the killing of a major opposition leader named Rodrigo Quintana Quintana.

In How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt outline key indications of authoritarian behavior. These behaviors can be observed in Paraguay today. Cartes’ casual relationship with the constitution highlights a weak commitment to the democratic rules. Cartes’ refusal to allow Lugo to run for office shows his denial of the legitimacy of political opponents. Moreover, the killing of Rodrigo Quintana Quintana amongst the violence that erupted after the secret parliamentary vote that allowed Cartes to run for president demonstrates the government’s toleration of violence.

What is the reasoning behind Cartes seeking office through the ballot box? Lugo was removed in a process that has been called a parliamentary coup. Why not a classical military coup? Why did the Right go through parliamentary procedures to remove Lugo from office legally? Why is the Senator Masi calling for a trial instead of a liberal coup?

The answer to all of these questions might just be one in the same.

The world is much more connected these days. Globalization has made the local global. It turns out being an outright authoritarian is no longer in vogue. In fact, it comes with real consequences(see: sanctions in North Korea and even Russia).

Cartes may be holding office undemocratically, but the illusion of democracy is important to make him palatable to Paraguay’s neighbors and the rest of the world. This upcoming election may even be rigged, but the ritual of it gives ethos and legitimacy to the government.

Authoritarianism has adapted to the new global environment. This mutation does not change it’s nature however.

Freedom house initially welcomed Lugo’s election as a step forward towards democracy. A view highlighted by their ratings of Paraguay. The latest ratings however state that Paraguay has retreated back to authoritarian rule.

This rating however says nothing of the future.

Lugo’s election seemed to bring to life the promise of Democracy. His election highlighted a new possibility in the public’s imagination. Even if was stolen through a coup, the idea remains.

Cartes might steal this election and dress up his authoritarianism by creating a State that is authoritarian in action but with a democratic façade.

The clientelism of the Colorado party can only curtail democracy for so long. The vast inequitable distribution of land has led to a class of people who make up the majority who are dissatisfied with the status quo.

The Paraguayan opposition is organizing and public discourse is happening. Protests are becoming more common. Hope exists.

Aprill 22nd is around the corner and the people of Paraguay might stand up to the Colorado party as they did in 2012. Time will tell. I stand in solidarity with my sisters and brothers who are landless but who have the fate of Paraguay in their hands.

People celebrate rejection of the amendment in front of the Congress after members discuss during a session at the Lower House amendment to allow presidential second terms of Congress in Asuncion, Paraguay April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno


Photo by Reuters/Jorge Adorno


  1. Daniel Caissie

    March 20, 2019 at 11:39 pm

    To start, I like how you made the introduction in a creative way, it really drew me into the post. The biggest take away I got from the post is that the April 22nd elections bring hope to Paraguay and is opposing democratic backsliding. I definitely see this concept as true. However, you mentioned that the election has a large chance of being rigged which undermines democracy at its deepest roots. I see your point as the thought of an election brings hope to the country and a future of freedom and democracy. Overall, it is an interesting topic with difficult content given the current state of the country. As your title states “Hope in Paraguay” , I believe it is a start for the country in it’s pursuit to a democracy but only time will tell how much corruption plays in the growth of the sought after government structure.

  2. Brett Jones

    April 3, 2019 at 7:27 pm

    This was an interesting article on the democratic history of a country I know little about, and certainly does not get the same publicity as some other Latin American countries overall as well as in the sphere of democratic history and democratic erosion. It is interesting how after what Freedom House and surely many international observers considered to be the adoption of democracy with the election of Fernando Lugo, Paraguayans after his term re-elected essentially the party which denied them democracy for over 60 years. I think this is notable and somewhat unique in the region of Latin America today as well as the modern world in this potential return to autocracy (as we don’t want to call it what it could be yet until things develop after this upcoming election). Many of the countries that have been transitioning from democracy to part-democracies or autocracies have been led by political outsiders and populist movements: the Colorado Party does not fit this bill. The party which ruled Paraguay for 60 years, even if they did spend a brief period out of power before reclaiming the country, sounds purely establishment. Perhaps this is a good sign however for the beginning of democratic norms in Paraguay where there are peaceful transitions from power from one party to the next. It is difficult to say since Lugo was removed from office, rather than simply ending his term.

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