Paraguay is a country located in the region of South America. The Conservative Colorado Party returned to power in Paraguay in 2013, after a five-year hiatus. Otherwise, the party has ruled the country since the 1940s. However, it is characterized by internal strife. Mario Abdo Benítez who became President in 2018 represents a different phalanx than the representative Horacio Cartes.
Abdo Benítez won the April 2018 presidential election over Efraín Alegre, candidate for a center-left and left-wing alliance, and took office in August. However, Abdo’s victory margin was considerably more modest than the roughly 20 percentage points predicted by opinion polls. And even though the Colorado Party remains the largest party in Congress, it has fewer mandates than before.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Paraguay, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
The Colorado Party emerged during the term of Horacio Cartes from 2013, which was more and more clearly divided into two main factions: one consisting of Cartes loyalists and one of Cartes opponents. The latter group is called Colorado Añetete and is led by Mario Abdo Benítez, the son of former dictator Stroessner’s private secretary and associated with the party’s traditional right-wing values. Abdo Benítez was a senator before becoming presidential candidate. Several confrontations occurred where Añetete openly opposed, among other things, proposed tax reform and infrastructure initiatives.
Breakout group in the Senate
The struggles within the Colorado Party resulted in 15 senators in April 2015 forming a breakaway group, G15, which sought to block some of Carte’s initiative. The contradictions reached the boiling point in the spring of 2017 when the president’s supporters tried to push through a contentious constitutional amendment to allow Cartes to stand for re-election. Violent riot broke out when the Senate voted in favor of the proposal. Protesters stormed the congress building and set fire to a floor, and one person was shot dead by police. The opposition opposed the proposal and was supported by the Cartes hostile camp within the Colorado Party. After a couple of weeks of continued protests in various parts of the country, Cartes announced unexpectedly that he would not stand in the 2018 elections.
In the primary elections held in the ruling party in December 2017, Mario Abdo Benítez won the conviction of Cartes’s hand-picked successor, former Finance Minister Santiago Peña. “Marito” Abdo Benítez was supported by the Catholic Church and by landowners who are dissatisfied with the neoliberal economic policies pursued by Cartes.
Abdo Benítez won the presidential election with just over 46 percent of the vote, against just under 43 percent for Efraín Alegre, who was also a candidate for the PLRA in 2013 (see Political system) and then came second after Horacio Cartes.
In the 2013 election, Cartes won despite allegations of money laundering, cigarette smuggling and tax violations directed at him. Cartes is one of the richest men in the country and has a business empire that includes tobacco, food and banking. He had no political experience and had only been a party member for a few years.
Cartes set up a government dominated by technocrats and businessmen and made clear from the beginning that he intended to go his own way even though he was elected for the Colorado Party. Veterans from the party were also largely kept out of government, which diluted the discontent in the party leadership.
Corruption and poverty
The Cartes government, like its predecessors, faced great challenges. The corruption in Paraguay permeates the entire society. The informal economy (black jobs, smuggling, drug trafficking and more) is more extensive than the official legal (see Financial overview). In addition, there is widespread poverty. Unemployment is high and many Paraguayans are without proper support (see further Social Conditions).
During Carte’s reign, trade unions, student groups and farmer organizations organized repeated demonstrations and strikes in protest of the government’s neoliberal economic policy. In recent years, the protests have often turned into violence.
Land occupations have also become more common and the demands for land reform have been tightened. The distribution of land has been uneven in Paraguay ever since the colonial period, but the situation has worsened in line with the increased prevalence of large-scale soybean cultivation (see Agriculture and Fisheries). Many small farmers have been forced to leave their land which has been taken over by large owners. In a decade up to 2016, soybean crops have doubled in size, and in about half of the new soybean fields former small farmers or indigenous peoples lived. The displaced often live in extreme poverty. During the same decade, 900,000 people have moved to the cities. Of those still alive, many today are surrounded by soybean crops. Pesticides from soy crops are reported to knock out other crops and cause health problems.
The National Farmers Federation FNC claims to have recaptured 270,000 hectares, through occupation and mobilization, since 1989. But it has cost: well over 100 farmer leaders have been murdered and thousands of farmers have been arrested. The most violent clash occurred in 2012 and resulted in the dismissal of President Fernando Lugo (see Modern History).
Indigenous peoples are often hit particularly hard. Protests usually do not lead anywhere, but in one notable case, in 2014, the government decided to repurchase a large tract of land in Chaco from landowners and return it to the sawhoyamaxa population group (see Calendar). The landowners claimed that the decision was contrary to the Constitution, but the Supreme Court ruled the matter in favor of the sawhoyamaxa.
Guerrilla war in the north
In the northern part of the country, the government is challenged by a small Marxist guerrilla movement, the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejército del pueblo paraguayo, EPP). The EPP consists largely of landless farmers and is accused of having ties to the (now disbanded) left-wing guerrilla Farc in Colombia. The guerrillas are involved in kidnappings and murders, usually against landowners in the north but also against police and security forces. EPP is accused of some 60 murders since the guerrilla was formally formed in 2008 and is suspected of cooperating with drug smugglers.
Shortly after Cartes took office in 2013, a law change was made that allowed the president to use the military to guarantee the country’s internal security. Soldiers were thus given the right to carry out police duties without the need for an emergency permit. The purpose of the law change was to be able to deploy the military against the EPP, which also happened. The days before the law change, EPP had killed five security guards at a farmhouse. But farmer organizations and human rights organizations argue that the law in practice means that permanent state of emergency exists, and that it gives the state the opportunity to persecute landless and other farmers who try to organize themselves.
Follow the ongoing development of the Calendar.
FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of Paraguay / Republic of Paraguay
republic, unitary state
Head of State and Government
President Mario Abdo Benítez (2018–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Colorado Party 42/17, The True Liberal Radical Party (PLRA) 29/13, Guasú Front (FG) 0/6, Beloved Motherland (PPQ) 3/3, others 6/6 (2018) 1
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Colorado Party 44/19, The True Liberal Radical Party (PLRA) 27/12, The Guasu Front (FG) 2/5) National Association of Ethical Citizens (Unace) 2/2, Others 5/7 (2013) 2
about 61% in the 2018 presidential and congressional elections
presidential and congressional elections 2023
- The distribution of seats after the 2018 election is not yet complete; the first number refers to the Chamber of Deputies and the second Senate
2. see above