REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been reporting on human rights violations committed by the Government of Paraguay for many years. In addition to special sections of its annual reports, the Commission has published two special country reports on the human rights situation in that country. The first was done in 1978 and described the pattern of abuses that characterized those times in Paraguay. The second was released on September 28 of last year the chronicled numerous violations during the intervening 10 years since the first report.
The highlights of the human rights situation in Paraguay during the period comprehended by this Annual Report must be seen in light of two important happenings. The first was the national elections held on February 14, 1988 and the second was the papal visit by the Holy Father, John Paul II on May 16-18, 1988.
Not surprisingly the opposition groups to the Government of General Stroessner sought to draw international public attention to the non-democratic political system operant in their country. It should be emphasized that these efforts were often time violently repressed by police forces in spite of the fact that they were peaceful and non-violent in character.
Public rallies, strikes and demonstrations, again were met by repression, usually accompanied by some degree of brutality, fortunately none leading to the death of participants insofar as the Commission is aware.
Likewise private meetings of dissidents were frequently raided by groups of Colorado party supporters, called garroteros, composed of shock troops, who even on occasion conducted their attacks in churches where these meetings were being held.
As the presidential election approached the numbers of these incidents multiplied. Mr. Domingo Laino, President of the liberal Authentic Radical Party (PLRA), entered the country on April 26, 1987, and after four years of forced exile, was arbitrarily detained on 14 occasions. The pattern was the same. Arrests without warrants, usually accompanied by physical violence, and incommunicado detention ranging from several hours to several days.
In this context, the Commission regrets the increasing and extended persecution and harassment by the Government of the political leader, Mr. Domingo Laino, and members of his family, through police surveillance of his home. Furthermore, his home phone number 24-845, was disconnected by the Government from February 10, 1988 until September 5 of this year.
The 1987 country report noted a relatively new pattern of violations, namely the use of short term detentions coupled with generally non-lethal violence, a practice designed to keep leaders of various dissenting movements–political parties, labor, rural, religious, etc.–off balance and intimidated. This pattern, as well become clear in what follows, continues unabated.
The Government’s almost invariable responses to inquiries it received were that the detainees had been denied official permission to hold their rallies, or they were sowing seeds of class hatred or they were behaving in an unpatriotic way of criticizing the Government or they were advocating civil disobedience by urging a boycott at the polls and that voting is a legal duty and failure to do so is a misdemeanor.
When the elections were over the Government announced that more than 90% of its citizens had voted and 88% of them had voted for General Stroessner’s National Republican Association–the Colorado party. General Stroessner thus was re-elected to an eighth straight five-year term, a reign that began in 1954.
It should be noted that the Archbishop of Asunción and President of the Episcopal Conference, Monseñor Ismael Rolón Silvero, decided to cancel the Te Deum that was supposed to take place for the inauguration of the Government of General Stroessner, scheduled for August 15. This decision was a response to the expulsion of a Spanish priest, Father Juan Antonio de la Vega, by the Government on July 25, 1988.
The church conflicts with the Government has been growing during the past year. On October 30, 1987 the church sponsored a “procession of silence” through the capital. Thousands of citizens participated and the Government did not interfere. The second march of this type was held on August 6 of this year.
A particularly celebrated incident involving a man who until his release from prison on December 17, 1987, was considered the oldest political prisoner in the Hemisphere, occurred in the wake of elections. Napoleon Ortigoza, following completion of a 25-year sentence was relegated to the small town of San Estanislao, several hours from the capital Asunción. Therefore, although technically free, he was kept under house arrest. At first the government denied this but later the Minister of Interior, Sabino Augusto Montanaro, declared:
We guarded his home out of fear that his mental instability could lead him to commit crazy acts. We protected him at home for his own security and at the request of his mother and children, who indicated that he was mentally unstable and they wanted protection.
Ortigoza’s daughter Martha later dismissed this argument stating:
This Minister of Interior is not telling the truth. We have never abandoned my father and it is absolutely false that we have requested protective police custody for him.
She also rejected any notion that he suffered from mental instability.
The tight police vigilance prevented Ortigoza from talking to news reporters. Finally on March 23 accompanied by long time dissident Rafael Hermes Saguier, Ortigoza managed to elude his captors and in the midst of police gunfire, he sough and obtained asylum in the Colombian Embassy in Asunción. Finally on June 20 following the intercession of many governments, human rights organizations and the Catholic church, Ortigoza was allowed to leave the Embassy. Thanks to the role played by the Governments of Colombia and Argentina, and Spain in particular, Ortigoza was permitted to leave the country while Saguier, who had left the Embassy earlier chose to stay in Paraguay.
Just prior to Pope Paul II’s visit, the Government, in an unprecedented action, sought to prevent a meeting between the Pontiff and “los constructores de la sociedad”, a mixed group of political, social, religious and business leaders who had been invited by the Episcopal Conference. (It should be noted that leaders of the official Colorado Party were also invited but they declined to attend.) Only after firm insistence on the part of the Vatican did the Government withdraw its objection. During his stay in Paraguay, not surprisingly, the Pope spoke out lout and clearly on the need to respect human rights in that country.
Another area of concern to the Commission has to do with arbitrary detentions. Information available to the Commission indicates that between January and May of 1988, there were 56 short term arrests made of persons opposed to the Government.
This number, while illustrative, demonstrates the seriousness of the problem however. The Comité de Iglesias para Ayudas de Emergencia, reports that during 1987 the number of arbitrary arrests reached 500. The victims included students, labor activists, indians, and seminarians, political leaders, physicians, nurses, lawyers, journalists and peasants.
Arbitrary detentions were not the only method used to quell dissent during the past year. Freedom of expression by the mass media continued to be the rule rather than the exception. Thus, the newspapers El Pueblo and ABC Color continue to be closed. Only the church bulletins Sendero, the official fortnightly organ of the Catholic Episcopal Conference, and Nuestro Tiempo, an independent monthly magazine, continue to enjoy some modicum of freedom. Radio Ñandutí is still silenced and its owner, Humberto Rubin, has been denied a passport. Radio Caritas continues to function despite constant harassment, mostly in the form of anonymous threatening phone calls, but on March 24 of this year suffered a power loss, the result of a suspicious act of sabotage.
Even these independent and functioning media in practice exercise self-censorship in reporting the news.
During the presidential campaign when the opposition suggested that all parties should be allowed access tot he public radio station, Radio Nacional, the director of the station (and member of the Board of the Colorado Party), Alejandro Cáceres Almada, stated:
The Colorado Party as Government shall not permit it.
The opposition will not be allowed to take advantage of the National Radio Station and issue slander, slanted news and disinformation and criticism that attempts to disturb the peace and national progress. The press, as our leader has said many times, does not exist to promote journalistic delinquency, and if it does that, then it is anything except journalism. We will never allow anyone to speak badly of our leader on National Radio. Before that they’ll have to pass over our dead bodies, but insults, slander and verbal attacks against our leader shall not be broadcast from microphones at our station.
Another matter that again must be reiterated is the Government’s reneging on its invitation to the Commission to conduct an on-site human rights investigation in Paraguay. The original written invitation from the then Foreign Minister Alberto Nogues, dating back to 1978, indicated a willingness by the Government to allow the Commission to carry out a visit and the date was to have been set by mutual agreement. The Government of Paraguay’s subsequent refusal to agree to a fixed date, in the view of the Commission, constitutes a failure to fulfill its obligation to the Organization of American States.
In conclusion, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is of the view that the practice of human rights violations by the Government of Paraguay continues and nothing has occurred during the year covered by this report that would lead to any alteration of the conclusions contained in its Special Report published in 1987.