Paraguayan journalists defend press freedom; new president takes office amid protests
Intimidation of press outlets amid former president’s legal controversy
On 18th August, four officials from the Public Prosecutor’s Office issued official letters to the Paraguayan newspapers "ABC Color" and "Última Hora," instructing them to disclose the authors of investigative reports related to former President Horacio Cartes between 2013 and 2018. This action was part of a court case initiated by the former president. The letters gave the outlets a 48-hour deadline to respond.
On 25th August, the newspapers sent the certified copies but declined to disclose the journalists’ names. Horacio Cartes faces sanctions and legal proceedings for corruption brought by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, for which the former president announced in March 2023 the dissolution of his companies and the transfer of the shares to his heirs during his lifetime. These and other facts were covered and reported by various media outlets, which prompted the former president, still residing in Paraguay and facing a government that refuses to extradite him, to take legal action against those who covered the news.
The Paraguayan Union of Journalists (Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay, SPP) rejected the court orders, stating that the actions of prosecutors undermined regulations protecting civil liberties: "We point out that this action is extremely serious as it implies a total disregard for national and international standards for the protection of the right to freedom of expression, the free exercise of journalism and access to information. At the same time, it would be an attempt to intimidate the media and journalists, seeking, through judicial harassment, to silence criticism and ask for situations of censorship and self-censorship.”
Aggression against a journalist in Ciudad del Este
On 15th August, journalist Samir Sánchez was attacked and threatened by supporters of Miguel Prieto, a municipal mayor in Ciudad del Este. The mayor's supporters were protesting against accusations of corruption, and during their demonstration they destroyed Sánchez’s mobile phone while he was recording the event. On the same day, the journalist filed a complaint with the police.
Businessman convicted of coercion against journalist: a landmark case of press freedom
On 3rd August 2023, Álex Castro García, a Spanish businessman, was convicted of the crime of coercion for making death threats against Pablo Gastón Ortiz, the Press Chief of the Villarrica Cable Vision TV channel.
In September 2022, Castro García issued death threats against Gastón Ortiz in an attempt to compel the journalist to cease publishing information about him. The journalist had been covering a story involving Castro García, who deceitfully posed as a councillor and representative of a business group, claiming they would substantially donate funds to construct a new bus terminal in Villarrica. Subsequent investigations revealed that this claim was false.
The Villarrica Trial Court imposed a two-year suspended sentence on Castro García. It required him to donate five million Guaraníes (approximately 700 USD) to the Black Firefighters of Villarrica and another five million Guaraníes to the Tesape Porã Children's Home.
Additionally, the Trial Court issued an order to repair three parks in Villarrica and established several restrictions on him. These restrictions included a prohibition from approaching or contacting the victim, a travel ban preventing him from leaving the country, and a requirement to appear before the court once a month. He was also prohibited from possessing any weapons.
In a statement to the press, Gastón Ortíz expressed being “very satisfied with the verdict because it is the first attack on press freedom that has gone to a public and oral trial, except for murders. It sets an exemplary precedent.”
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Pedro Vaca, announced his endorsement of this legal decision that protects press freedom: “I positively register this judicial precedent, which defends #PressFreedom by protecting the rights of @PabloGaston89. A victory for him and for those who keep society informed about matters of public interest.”
El SPP celebra primera sentencia por ataque a la libertad de prensa— SPP (@PeriodistasPy) August 4, 2023
El colega Pablo Gastón Ortiz había sido amenazado por Alex Castro García debido a sus publicaciones periodísticas 👇 https://t.co/Y29jnvhBgX
Peaceful demonstrations against the new president
On 15th August 2023, conservative Santiago Peña was inaugurated as the president of Paraguay, marking the continuation of the long-standing conservative rule of the Colorado Party. His inauguration prompted hundreds of citizens to protest in Asunción, opposing the neoliberal economic policies and demanding pro-working-class reforms.
Social organisations called for a demonstration named "El otro 15 de agosto" (The Other 15th of August), drawing together a diverse assembly of participants in the heart of Asunción, Plaza Italia. Later, a march passed through different city streets without any incidents.
At least 18 social and political organisations participated in the mobilisation, and the call was made through social networks. People were invited to partake in a community product fair, contribute to communal cooking pots, or express their viewpoints during open mic discussions.
Demonstrations against the creation of the Superintendence of Retirement Pensions
In August and September 2023, labour unions organised protests in the capital city to express their concerns about a bill establishing the Superintendence of Retirement and Pensions, a public office dependent on the Central Bank of Paraguay. This bill was introduced in the National Congress on 3rd August 2023.
Following this, on 12th August, the National Union of Retirees of Paraguay (Unión Nacional de Jubilados del Paraguay, UNJPy) issued a statement condemning the bill for its attempt to re-regulate Article 95 of the constitution regarding the social security system. They also expressed concern about the extent of the Pensioners’ Superintendence’s influence on the autonomy of existing public funds.
In this context, on 31st August, more than 20 labour organisations comprising retirees, pensioners and unionised workers marched in Asunción. Additionally, union-led demonstrations took place on 5th September during the bill's public hearing in the Senate. The protesters demanded the bill's rejection and announced that they would set up a protest tent as a show of force.
As reported by media outlet “Última Hora”, the president of the Association of Retirees of Paraguay, Pedro Halley, said that the creation of the Superintendence of Pensions and Retirements would imply granting a superpower to a person who could not even be brought to justice. He affirmed that it is true that control over these social funds is required, but this bill would mean that the superintendent could dispose of all the real estate and capital of the Social Security Institute (IPS). "This law gives the Superintendency the functions of supervising, controlling, administering, selling and disposing of assets. It goes beyond a control body, penetrating the disposal of assets," he said.
Campaign against genetically modified wheat banned in the EU
On 28th August, restaurant owners, bakers, farmers and environmentalists protested outside the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) in Asunción to oppose Resolution 556/223, which approved HB4 GM wheat.
During the same time, a meeting was held with Minister Carlos Giménez along with the leading representatives of the "Bread without Poison" (Pan sin Veneno) campaign, a civil society-led initiative. During the meeting, the representatives presented a letter containing over 6,000 signatures. The signatories included chefs, food industry workers, engineers, agronomists, healthcare professionals, parents and academics from various social science disciplines.
Campaigners have warned in the letter that genetically modified wheat threatens human health and the environment. They also pointed out that the cultivation and consumption of modified wheat is banned in the European Union. However, it was approved in Brazil, the United States and New Zealand last year.
📰 Presentarpn nota y estudios para evitar liberación del trigo transgénico HB4.— RDN (@RdnPY) August 28, 2023
👉 La organización "Pan sin veneno" alertó sobre los peligros de la incorporación de este producto para la salud y el medioambiente.pic.twitter.com/HC108E8OS1
Human rights of Afro-descendants
In June 2023, Margarette Macaulay, the president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the current Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and against Racial Discrimination, visited Paraguay for the first time to monitor the human rights situation of Afro-descendants.
According to a report by ABC, a media outlet, the Rapporteur expressed concern about Paraguay’s human rights record, specifically about the Afro-descendant and indigenous communities. The report suggests that while Paraguay scored 3.5 out of 5 for fulfilling the human rights of Afro-descendants, there is still room for improvement. Similarly, the score drops even further when indigenous peoples are included.