Country Listing

Paraguay Table of Contents



Constitutional Development

The Republic of Paraguay is governed under the Constitution of 1967, which is the fifth constitution since independence from Spain in 1811. The Constitutional Governmental Regulations approved by Congress in October 1813 contained seventeen articles providing for government by two consuls, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia and Fulgencio Yegros. The framers also provided for a legislature of 1,000 representatives. Recognizing the importance of the military in the embattled country, the framers gave each consul the rank of brigadier general and divided the armed forces and arsenals equally between them. Within ten years, however, both Yegros and the legislature had been eliminated and Francia ruled until his death in 1840 (see El Supremo Dictador , ch. 1).

In 1841 Francia's successor, Carlos Antonio López, asked the legislature to revise the constitution. Three years later, a new constitution granted powers to López that were as broad as those under which Francia had governed. Congress could make and interpret the laws, but only the president could order that they be promulgated and enforced. The constitution placed no restrictions on the powers of the president beyond limiting his term of office to ten years. Despite this limitation, Congress subsequently named López dictator for life. He died in 1862 after twenty-one years of unchallenged rule (see Carlos Antonio López, ch. 1).

At the end of the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1865- 70), a Constituent Assembly adopted a new constitution in November 1870, which, with amendments, remained in force for seventy years. The constitution was based on principles of popular sovereignty, separation of powers, and a bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives. Although its tenor was more democratic than the two previous constitutions, extensive controls over the government and the society in general remained in the hands of the president.

In 1939 President José Felix Estigarribia responded to a political stalemate by dissolving Congress and declared himself absolute dictator. To dramatize his government's desire for change, he scrapped the constitution and promulgated a new one in July 1940. This constitution reflected Estigarribia's concern for stability and power and thus provided for an extremely powerful state and president. The president, who was chosen in direct elections for a term of five years with reelection permitted for one additional term, could intervene in the economy, control the press, suppress private groups, suspend individual liberties, and take exceptional actions for the good of the state. The Senate was abolished and the Chamber of Representatives limited in power. A new advisory Council of State was created, modeled on the experience of corporatist Italy and Portugal, to represent group interests including business, farmers, bankers, the military, and the Roman Catholic Church. The military was responsible for safeguarding the constitution.

After taking power in 1954, President Stroessner governed for the next thirteen years under the constitution of 1940. A constituent assembly convoked by Stroessner in 1967 maintained the overall framework of the constitution of 1940 and left intact the broad scope of executive power. Nevertheless, it reinstated the Senate and renamed the lower house the Chamber of Deputies. In addition, the assembly allowed the president to be reelected for another two terms beginning in 1968.

The Constitution of 1967 contains a preamble, 11 chapters with 231 articles, and a final chapter of transitory provisions. The first chapter contains eleven "fundamental statements" defining a wide variety of topics, including the political system (a unitary republic with a representative democratic government), the official languages (Spanish and Guaraní), and the official religion (Roman Catholicism). The next two chapters deal with territory, civil divisions, nationality, and citizenship. Chapter four contains a number of "general provisions," such as statements prohibiting the use of dictatorial powers, requiring public officials to act in accordance with the Constitution, and entrusting national defense and public order to the armed forces and police, respectively.

Chapter five, with seventy-nine articles, is by far the longest section of the Constitution and deals in considerable detail with the rights of the population. This chapter purportedly guarantees the population extensive liberty and freedom, without discrimination, before the law. In addition to the comprehensive individual rights, spelled out in thirty-three articles, there are sections covering social, economic, labor, and political rights. For example, Article 111 stipulates that "The suffrage is the right, duty, and public function of the voter. . . . Its exercise will be obligatory within the limits to be established by law, and nobody can advocate or recommend electoral abstention." The formation of political parties is also guaranteed, although parties advocating the destruction of the republican regime or the multiparty representative democratic system are not permitted. This chapter also specifies five obligations of citizens, including obedience to the Constitution and laws, defense of the country, and employment in legal activities.

Chapter six identifies agrarian reform as one of the fundamental factors for the achievement of rural well-being. It also calls for the adoption of equitable systems of land distribution and ownership. Colonization is projected as an official program involving not only citizens but also foreigners.

Chapters seven through ten concern the composition, selection, and functions of the legislature, executive, judiciary, and attorney general, respectively. Chapter eleven discusses provisions for amending or rewriting the Constitution. The final chapter contains transitory articles, the most important of which states that for purposes of eligibility and reeligibility of the president, account will be taken of only those terms that will be completed since the presidential term due to expire on August 15, 1968. The only constitutional amendment, that of March 25, 1977, modifies this article to allow the president to succeed himself without limit.

Data as of December 1988

Country Listing

Paraguay Table of Contents