For those of us who closely follow Paraguay, the past 48hs have been not only worrying, but also disturbing.  Yesterday, Paraguay’s Congress granted President Cartes power to order military interventions inside the country.

The changes in the “defense and internal security law” come after the latest attack of the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejecito del Pueblo Paraguayo – EPP), a rebel group that has staged a number of armed operations, including bombings, arson attacks, shootings and kidnappings. After the attack, Cartes’ requested from the congress the power to unilaterally send troops to fight the EPP in the northern jungles, without Congress declaring a formal state of emergency. Paraguay’s charter stipulates that the military can be used only against foreign threats or to protect government stability. Under the new changes, Cartes can now send the military to undertake police work without prior legislative approval.

Cartes Militares2

The modification of the law generated a public outcry and is considered a dangerousbackward step for a country still navigating its transition towards a full democracy and with a strong legacy of dictatorship.

The situation is worrying for a number of reasons:

  • The big question that remains unanswered is how do you define a national threat?While today it might be the EPP, under the new law thePresident now can use the military against anything he considers a “threat”. Even worse, with an absolute majority in Congress, there is no way to stop what could potentially happen in the future. The new law could clearly be abused because the overlap between national interest and political/personal interests will be blurred.
  • The second big question is how do you avoid a militarisation of the country under the pretext of a national threat? The news of targeted killings of peasant leaders has considerably increased in the past few months, clear signs of the unrest the country is experiencing in rural areas. Are landless peasant leaders going to become the next ‘national threat’? The situation gets even worse if the new rumours of paramilitary groups funded by large landowners are true.
  • Furthermore, Stroessner’s 35-year rule was based on the well documented “trilogy of power: state, party, military”. Stroessner managed to consolidate power through the restoration of the unity of the Colorado Party, its alliance with the military and his absolute grip of power over the state. Today, the same trilogy has reincarnated. Cartes managed to restore the unity of a divided Colorado Party, sealed his alliance with the military through the modification of the National and Internal Security Defence Law and has control of the state through his presidency with an absolute majority in both houses of Congress.

Not long ago I questioned what Cartes’ “new path” was supposed to mean, a week into power, the new path is becoming pretty clear and unfortunately is not a good one.

You can read the article published on the Washington Post for more details about the topic:

*Picture used by Associated Press