Paraguay: A broken contract

Pro-democratic demonstration
in Asunción, in june.
(Photo: Decidamos-Paraguay)

“The social contract was broken” in Paraguay by the “parliamentary coup” that ousted President Fernando Lugo on 22 June 2012, informs Decidamos, a campaign for citizen rights, in its contribution to the Social Watch report 2013.
Lugo became president with 41% of the votes, and in 2011, three years into his Administration, he had the approval of 50% of the population.”

The new government is reversing a decade-long trend towards increasing social expenditure and raised by 30% the budget allocation for the police and the armed forces.

Twenty years after the transition to democracy, citizens in Paraguay still lack mechanisms to defend their rights and make public servants and politicians accountable. The state is responsive to interests groups and private influences and thus unable to meet even the minimum targets spelled out in the MDGs, which should have been easy to accomplish with quality policies.

Social protection, which started to be implemented in Europe at the end of the 19th century and gained strength in Latin America in the second half of the 20th century, was absent in Paraguay until the beginning of the 21st century, except as contributory retirement plans for workers in the formal sectors of the economy, which are a small minority.

From 2005 on, the budget of existing programmes has increased and new social policies were launched focused on extreme poverty, children living in the streets, malnutrition, elderly people living in poverty and others. Social indicators started to improve but “national averages were frequently hiding big gaps between urban and rural areas, between indigenous and non-indigenous people, between the poor and the less poor,” writes economist Verónica Serafini Geoghegan, the main author of the report.

These programmes explicitly mentioned the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals as their objectives and in 2005 fifty organizations representing workers, women, indigenous peoples, slum dwellers and human rights activists came together in a coalition against poverty that campaigned for better policies and joined the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. The “Paraguay: No Excuses Against Poverty” alliance criticized the MDGs for being minimalistic, ignoring human rights and the rights of women in particular. By focusing on results and not on the causes of poverty, the MDGs could promote spending to achieve short term results that would become unsustainable in the long term. The alliance feared the MDGs could become an excuse to further reduce the state responsibilities, with its focused emphasis on extreme poverty instead on the obligation of ensuring human rights and the universal provision of social services.

Yet, after the accelerated and illegal impeachment of president Lugo, “the political parties and the elected representatives that should be the link between the citizens and the state power have lost legitimacy, resources are assigned on arbitrary basis and there is no public information on program implementation.” In that context, “the MDGs could become a powerful accountability instrument, provided that the goals are understood as an obligation and a mechanism to ensure government compliance is available to citizens.”

According to the Social Watch coalition in Paraguay, one of the future challenges will be “to reconstruct the social contract in the light of how far human rights (civil, political, economic, social and cultural) have progressed, incorporating the MDGs as a starting line.”

The report adds that “strategies and action must be based on interventions geared to the causes of problems and on results that affect the quality of life of the people, and not on the means employed to achieve these results.”

Paraguayan contribution to the Social Watch Report: