Journalist shot and killed in Paraguay
On 30th April 2023, national and department-level elections took place in Paraguay to elect the President and Vice President of the Republic, senators, deputies, governors, and other authorities. Candidate Santiago Peña from the ruling conservative Colorado Party and his running mate Pedro Alliana won the election and will take office on 15th August 2023. The Colorado Party has dominated the political scene for more than 70 years.
Supporters of right-wing candidate 'Payo' Cubas, who came in third, alleged fraud and called for people to take to the streets in protest, which led to clashes with police outside the electoral court. As reported by the press, police cordoned off the court's headquarters and fired rubber bullets at protesters who were throwing stones. Demonstrators blocked roads with burning tires and destroyed billboards with the photo of President-elect Santiago Peña. Around 70 people were detained.
The demonstrations were encouraged by 'Payo' Cubas on social networks who promised to arrive in Asunción from Ciudad del Este. The presidential candidate called on citizens to take action against the alleged electoral "fraud" and stop the elected officials from taking office in August.
As reported by the Paraguayan civil society organisation BASE-IS, during the first months of 2023, at least six indigenous and campesino communities had been subjected to threats, evictions, and attacks by armed civilians and state agents acting in the interests of the agribusiness sector.
On 21st January 2023, around 50 families from the Cristo Rey community of Guayaibi, San Pedro were attacked by armed civilians hired by Brazilian soya growers from the Itakyry region of Alto Paraná, when the campesino community was due to move to land owned by the National Institute for Rural and Land Development (INDERT) in the area. The Cristo Rey community had already been evicted three times and the relocation aimed to resolve the conflict.
In another development, the community of Mbocayaty, in the department of San Pedro, was forcibly evicted by state agents; the families denounced the destruction of their homes, belongings, and crops.
The eviction of the Ysaty community in the department of Alto Paraná was also reported, where police and armed guards destroyed homes, crops, and the community's church.
The Cerrito indigenous community, also in Alto Paraná, has been threatened with eviction for several years by Brazilian settlers trying to take over their land for soya cultivation. Finally, in the Y'apo Cuatro community of the Ava Guaraní people, in Corpus Christi, Canindeyú department, the presence of heavily armed plainclothes police was recorded, causing alarm among the population.
In the 2022 Report on Human Rights in Paraguay, published by the Human Rights Coordinator of Paraguay (CODEHUPY), one of its chapters deals with state violence against peasants and indigenous people, where it states that forced evictions continue to affect thousands of peasants and indigenous people.
Approximately 8,000 people from peasant and indigenous organisations marched through Asunción on 30th March 2023 as part of the 29th Peasant March organised by the National Peasant Federation (FNC). This is the second time that the FNC had marched together with indigenous organisations.
The protesters demanded the right to access land, work, sovereignty, health and education. They also demanded an end to persecution, unlawful charges, and evictions of peasant and indigenous communities.
The distribution of land in Paraguay is very unequal: 85% of the land is in the hands of 2% of the population. According to a report by the Truth and Justice Commission of Paraguay, 8 million hectares of land should have been redistributed, but ultimately, they remained in the hands of landowners or ended up in the hands of people who do not qualify under the Agrarian Reform.
On 14th February 2023, an unidentified attacker shot journalist Alexander Álvarez in Pedro Juan Caballero, a city near Paraguay's border with Brazil. Álvarez died in the hospital two days after the attack.
Álvarez produced a morning news programme for the local, privately owned broadcaster Radio Urundey and hosted an afternoon music programme. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that Álvarez was not an investigative reporter and did not cover sensitive news. The motive has not yet been determined.
In a joint statement, the Coordinator of Human Rights in Paraguay (Codehupy) and its member organisations, the Paraguayan Journalists' Union (SPP) and the Society of Communicators of Paraguay (SCP), condemned the killing. They also reported that Álvarez is the second journalist to be killed in less than six months in Pedro Juan Caballero. As reported by the CIVICUS Monitor, another journalist was killed in the same city in September 2022.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organisation for American States had previously indicated that the city of Pedro Juan Caballero is one of the most dangerous in the country for journalists due to the criminal networks that operate in the area.
Court imposes fine on journalists in defamation case
On 18th November 2022, a judge imposed a fine on Natalia Zuccolillo, editor of ABC Color newspaper, and on journalist Juan Carlos Lezcano in a defamation case brought against them by former Under Secretary of State for Taxation (SET) Marta González Ayala.
Specifically, Zuccolillo was ordered to pay 87.4 million guaraníes (US$12,202), and an additional penalty of 400 million guaraníes (about US$55,844) to the former state official. Lezcano, the author of the article published on 27th March 2019, was fined six million guaraníes (about US$837).
The newspaper article published by ABC Color reported on the contracting process for a specialised service for the tax management system known as Marangatú. The article alleged that the contract was awarded to the Inter-American Centre for Tax Administrations (CIAT), of which González Ayala was the director. In her statement, González Ayala argued that ABC's publication violated "her honour and prestige as a person who served as deputy minister of the State Secretariat of Taxation".
Codehupy and its member organisations raised concerns over the threat to freedom of expression posed by this court ruling. The ruling could create a chilling effect on investigative journalism, especially as it concerns alleged corruption by public officials, which is a matter of great public interest.
#Paraguay🇵🇾: asesinaron al periodista Alexander Álvarez— FIP - América Latina y El Caribe (@FIP_AL) February 15, 2023
Junto al Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay, la Federación Internacional de Periodistas demanda una investigación urgente que identifique a los responsables y mejores medidas de protección para lxs trabajadorxs de prensa pic.twitter.com/8eC4tY6jWj