Policy Rigging amidst the Pandemic

COVID-19 cases have been increasing in the whole world lately and in Paraguay, more than 165,000 cases have been registered and about 3,200 deaths have been reported. The past few weeks have brought a steady peak in the number of COVID -19 cases, which has over-burdened the health system of the country. Protests took place as the people of Paraguay believe that the government is stealing millions of dollars that could have been spent for the health emergencies which were faced by people. The current situation of Paraguay is that they have only received 4,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V. Health Minister, Hernan Martinez “we are in a critical situation.” Also, the government recently admitted that there is a shortage of drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, and because of the helpless situation Martinez resigned. Many protestors and lawmakers from the opposition said that the country’s health has been aggravated by corruption at all levels of public procurement and spending.

In Paraguay, people have already paid for the drugs and the vaccines which they have not received yet. Ffrain Alegre, head of the main opposition party, said that the situation should be blamed upon the corruption within the government.

The protestors demanded the resignation of Abdo Benitez. They rallied outside the Congress building which resulted in stone pelting, breaking store windows and car windshields, and clashing with the police who tried to attempt to disperse the crowd using water cannons and rubber bullets. Benitez accepted the resignation of 3 ministers including the Minister of Education. The medical professionals also held a protest in Asuncion to make the government aware that basic medical supplies are scarce. It was brought to their attention that the health care workers had run out of drugs for chemotherapy treatment and sedatives for the patients who needed to be intubated. The hatred level is so high that protestors across the country have threatened, that they intend to continue holding demonstrations until his government falls.

In addition to the anger over the public health crisis, the tension has also been growing because of the restrictive actions carried out by the military forces. For instance, two 11-year-old Argentinian girls, Lilian Mariana and Maria Carmen Villabawere assassinated at the hands of the Paraguayan military. The government of Abdo Benitez’s tried to cover up the traces of the crime by explaining that their assassination took place amid a confrontation with a guerrilla group, they were dressed in military fatigues uniform to look like guerrilla combatants. However, the association of lawyers from the republic of Argentina and Peace and Justice Service started their independent investigation and announced that according to the witness testimonies, the girls were detained and executed later. These crimes evoked the memories of the military dictatorship of Adolfo Stroessner, he was from the same political party, the Colorado Party.

The unrest against the government was growing fast and it drew criticism from international bodies such as the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. The protests continue against the government of Mario Abdo Benitez and the protestors are not planning to stop these protests anytime soon, as the public health situation is only getting worse and acts of violence against the citizens are growing. The organizations have also launched the hashtag “#EstoParaElMarzoParaguay2021” which means “I am here for a march in Paraguay 2021” to call for mobilizations. The Minister of Communication announced in a press conference that, Abdo Benitez has declared that all the ministers should expect changes in the cabinet but has not given any sort of signal that he has the intention of giving up his post. On the other hand, the health ministers of other countries such as South America, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru have taken a step back in the middle of scandals and criticisms because of how governments have handled vaccine distribution and other aspects in response to the pandemic.

Urgent action is needed, not only because of the virus but also to set the deep-rooted injustice produced by the state’s lack of will, and failure to properly implement the basic services. The population of Paraguay was in a state of crisis not just because of the pandemic. An economic and employment crisis was existing with a very low quality of life, starvation, and massive discrimination, and the current situation is making all of that even worse. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean recently predicted that 209 million people in the region were living on the edge of poverty, an increase of 22 million from 2020. The way out of this is not to go back to how we were before the pandemic but there is a need for development and ideas that can help us to change the whole situation.

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