Secret agreement with Brazil on Itaipú Dam prompts political crisis in Paraguay

Peaceful Assembly

Several demonstrators took to the streets to express their discontent after details of negotiations between Paraguay and Brazil related to the shared hydroelectric facility Itaipú were leaked in late July. The bi-national dam provides around 90% of Paraguay's electricity. In secret, representatives of both countries reached an agreement that many Paraguayans believe would be detrimental to the country’s interests. The controversial deal unleashed a political crisis that has resulted in the resignation of several senior officials, some of whom have been accused of corruption.

On 1st August 2019, the governments of Brazil and Paraguay announced that the agreement was cancelled. Still, opposition parties mobilised to demand a trial against President Mario Abdo Benítez and Vice President Hugo Velazquez following the revelations. On 15th April 2019, thousands of people joined protests in the capital city Asunción against the government and in support of proceedings against Abdo and Velazquez. On 20th August 2019, Paraguay’s Chamber of Deputies rejected the petition for a trial.

LGBTQ march attacked by anti-rights groups

On 29th September 2019, protesters at an LGBTQ pride march in the city of Hernandarias were assaulted by counter-protesters, resulting in some demonstrators injured by stones and flash grenades. According to Amnesty International Paraguay, anti-rights groups surrounded the protesters, preventing those injured from seeking medical help. Since current president Mario Abdo Benítez took office in August 2019, Paraguayan politics has seen a significant shift toward conservatism, which has affected the LGBTQ community.

Protest restrictions and disruption

On 15th October 2019, anti-riot police in the department of Amambay resorted to force to disrupt a protest blocking a road in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero. The demonstrators protested peacefully against the clearance of a local settlement which would affect a hundred families. The security forces used rubber pellets and tear gas against protesters. According to news outlets, this resulted in several protesters being injured in the chest and legs, including a child.

Also on 15th October 2019, a protest by fruit producers ended with police intervention in Coronel Oviedo, Caaguazú department. The protesters, who demanded changes in the government policy against contraband, closed a roadway in the city. After eight hours, the police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse the demonstration.

Both incidents took place shortly after Interior Minister Euclides Acevedo announced on 14th October 2019 that his administration would not allow protests to block traffic flow on streets and roadways. Acevedo claimed that he did not seek to suppress the right to protest and argued that road blockades violate people’s righst to free movement. The Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay (Paraguayan Human Rights Coordination - Codehupy) issued a public statement saying that free transit is not a preferential right that can be imposed above the freedom of assembly and protest, as implied by Paraguayan authorities.

Expression

Several journalists injured during protests

On 23rd July 2019, several journalists were injured while covering a protest organised by taxi drivers in Asunción. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the police fired rubber pellets at a crowd, hitting at least two journalists, Fernando Riveros of Grupo Nación and Jorge Escurra of TV broadcaster C9N Paraguay. Reporter Dalma Benítez of Radio Urbana 106.9 FM denounced having been groped and insulted by a protester. Two other journalists, Angélica Giménez of broadcaster GEN and Sergio Daniel Riveros of newspaper Ultima Hora, were also reportedly injured. In a radio interview, Giménez stated that her injuries took place during a moment of confusion when clashes erupted between police and protesters who were attempting to invade a city government building.

Impact of Facebook policy on freedom of expression

In April 2019, Paraguayan digital rights CSO TEDIC published a brief analysis of a technical failure that resulted in censorship of content published by political party Partido de los Trabajadores (Workers’ Party - PT) on Facebook. Shortly after publishing an article, the PT web domain and the article were classified as spam by the social network, limiting their distribution and outreach. From the case, TEDIC offers a brief analysis of the impact of the network’s policies on freedom of expression. According to the CSO, there is an urgent need for Facebook to provide improved systems for appeal and follow up on such cases, in particular for non-English speaking users.

Defensores: new platform to document torture and ill-treatment

In a positive development, in October 2019 the Ministry of Public Defence (MDP) launched a platform to facilitate the documentation and monitoring of allegations of torture inside police stations and prisons in Paraguay. Defensores is a joint initiative between MDP, the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (MNP), and CSOs Avina Foundation and Luminate. It seeks to systematise and generate quality information on torture and inhuman treatment, making the data accessible to the government, the press, civil society and people in general. It also aims to improve the system used by public defenders to denounce cases of torture, as well as to facilitate the development of strategies to eliminate these practices.