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The violent events took place on March 31st and showed the social dissatisfaction with the Congress´ decision to amend the Constitution in order to enable the re-election of presidents, but they also showed the violent police repression and concerns over the attacks against institutions.
This is what Guillermo Ferreiro, human rights attorney, said in an interview with Real World Radio. He was the lawyer of peasants in the Curuguaty case. Ferreiro explained that the subject is a cause of concern in Paraguay because it reminds people of the "re-elections" that perpetuated dictator Alfredo Stroessner in office, from 1954 to 1989. "There isn´t a single social organization, union, community that supports the amendment”, said Ferreiro, who warned that if passed, it will generate more violence.
"The subject of re-election is a recurrent topic in each Paraguayan constitutional period. Almost all presidents have raised proposals in some way or the other to reform the Constitution and allow re-elections. The Constitution now in force was written in 1992, when we were coming out of the dictatorship of General Stroessner and it was written thinking that we needed to avoid another Stroessner, so the Executive Branch was severely limited, including re-election powers", said Ferreiro.
A fraction of right-wing Partido Colorado, the party of the current Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, promotes the amendment, seeking his re-election. It has the support of left-wing Frente Guasú -which aspires to the re-election of former president Fenando Lugo-, of a fraction of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA) and the Unión Nacional de Ciudadanos Éticos, a small party founded by General Lino Oviedo.
The Constitution now in force was written in 1992, when we were coming out of the dictatorship of General Stroessner and it was written thinking that we needed to avoid another Stroessner, so the Executive Branch was severely limited, including re-election powers", said Ferreiro.
"But in addition to the fear brought by the re-election itself, we reject the way in which it was imposed. Ferreiro explained that in order to modify re-election provisions, the Constitution establishes "the need to call for a new constituent assembly, which cannot be done through an amendment. This government has been insisting on the issue of re-election since the beginning and the left-wing has joined them, through the Frente Guasú, because they consider that Fernando Lugo, illegally ousted in 2012 deserves a new chance to be candidate to president".
From March 28 to Friday 31st there were "a series of notoriously irregular and absolutely unjustified events", said Ferreiro. “An extraordinary congressional session was convened, and according to law, it is the President who needs to set the date. However, 25 senators gathered at the Senate meeting room, including those against this passing. Being the chairman present, they gave way to a session, and a vice-chairman presents a bill to modify the regulation that it was necessary to subject the issue of the amendment to a commission. Fifteen minutes later, they present a ruling by a commission that never held a session and on Friday there was another session, without an agenda and without the presence of the secretary, without a prior call, i.e. a simulation of a Congress session. This outraged people, who demonstrated and set Congress on fire, which then triggered a violent police repression which ended with an attack against private property (the offices of PLRA) and the murder of a political leader of Partido Liberal, which is the main party of the opposition", said Ferreiro.
"This is the first time in the recent political history of Paraguay that I remember, that social organizations, student centers, upper class schools, lower class schools, employers unions (...), NGOS, all of them are against what is happening, all of them reject the methods the government and its allies used to pass the amendment, all of them question the constitutionality of this because a great number of legal mechanisms have not been respected", said the lawyer.
People are not sitting back. "People are quite mobilized, something that is not common in this country, people don´t generally react to political issues, until they are fed up and willing to stand up, as they did several times", he said.
Ferreiro also stated that the response by the political system has been "to ignore what was happening". He said that a dialogue table was convened, which had its first session on April 5th and that two things may happen: that the dialogue table concludes that the government and its allies need to withdraw the amendment bill, or to declare the failure of the dialogue and the bill will continue to move forward with an approval in the House of Representatives, where it has the necessary votes to succeed.
About this possibility, the lawyer said that "if this happens, the fear is that people will protest in the streets and that we will have situations like the ones we saw last Friday. Here in Paraguay, there are several corruption trials that have been left inconclusive, and only those where people took to the streets to protest have moved forward, so people know that if you don´t take the streets strongly, and even violently, nothing happens", he regretted.
Ferreiro added that "people, rather than alarmed, are fed up and they want to demonstrate and stop these blatant attacks on the institutions. This is very good, but institutions have conveyed the message that if people don´t demonstrate in a violent way, then nothing happens, crimes are not investigated, nobody is imprisoned. Here we´ve seen people stealing in front of cameras and nothing happens, people are tired, Asunción is surrounded by neighborhoods with signs reading: "Neighbor commission. Here we don´t call the police or the prosecutor". Paraguay is permanently headed to confrontation, and tensions are rising now, with people fearing that this violence will reach levels we could regret", he warned.
The situation is complex and exceeds this political event in particular. To conclude, Ferreiro said that "all of this, which the people perceive as an attack against institutions, is something that the political class has not understood in Paraguay. Paraguay is still a country where a judge would rule something because the governor or a senator called him. This happens in Paraguay all the time and people are tired of it".
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