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Figure 8. Officer Ranks and Insignia, 1988


Figure 9. Enlisted Ranks and Insignia, 1988

In mid-1988 the total strength of the armed forces was estimated at 19,500 persons. This number represented a ratio of approximately 4.4 military personnel for every 1,000 Paraguayans, down from more than 9 per 1,000 in the late 1960s. This level was slightly below the average for Latin American countries, a falloff since the early 1970s, when Paraguay's ratio was more than twice the average. An estimated 55 percent of armed forces personnel were conscripts.

Conscription had a long history in the nation. During the nineteenth century, the practice of "press-ganging" Indians and peasants into the military was common in Paraguay. The current system of conscription, however, was rooted in 1908 when a formal program of compulsory universal military service was instituted for males. In mid-1988 the system of conscription had its legal foundation in Article 125 of the Constitution, which states: "Every Paraguayan citizen is obliged to bear arms in defense of the nation and this Constitution. Military service is compulsory for male citizens, and those who have completed military service shall remain in the reserves. Women shall not render military service except in case of necessity during an international war, and not as combatants." In accordance with Article 125, women were not subject to the draft in the 1980s, and very few served in the armed forces.

Males were liable for two years of service upon reaching eighteen years of age. College students fulfilled their obligations by spending three summers in military training, which led to reserve officer commissions. Those males exempted from service were required to pay a military tax. Conscription was strictly enforced, but the number judged physically fit to serve was generally greater than actual manpower requirements, and only about half of those eligible were actually called to serve. The number of men required annually to replace those completing service did not adversely affect the labor force.

Conscripts came from all segments of Paraguay's population, which was relatively homogeneous in ethnic, social, and cultural makeup. Entry was greatly facilitated by personal or family ties to the Colorado Party. Military service generally was viewed as a patriotic duty, and service for conscripts was not particularly rigorous. In fact, for many conscripts, fulfilling their military obligation represented an opportunity to acquire skills valuable in finding later employment, including training in mechanics, carpentry, and all types of construction. Many conscripts learned to read and write during their period of service, and most learned to drive.

After meeting their service obligations, conscripts entered an organized reserve, serving nine years. They were then liable for ten years of service in the National Guard, followed by service in the Territorial Guard until the age of forty-five. Officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and enlisted personnel also incurred reserve obligations after leaving service. In practice, the National Guard and the Territorial Guard seemed to exist primarily as paper organizations in 1988.

Entry into the officer corps was highly competitive. In practice, successful candidates had family or personal connections with the Colorado Party. Officer candidates came both from the Francisco López Military College in Asunción and from the reserve officer-training program for college students. Conditions of military service were very good, especially for senior officers. Salaries, when combined with allowances and medical and pension benefits, compared favorably with those of the civilian population. Military personnel also enjoyed special privileges, including access to private military stores and clubs. Members of the armed forces were exempt from car-licensing fees. Officers also had access to favorable business and real estate loans.

Senior officers lived particularly well. The nation, like most Latin American countries, had a strong tradition of patron-client relations, and senior officers were especially well placed to aid friends, relatives, and associates. They influenced decisions related to the allocation of public and private employment, the choice of political appointees, the award of public and private business contracts, and the outcome of judicial and legal decisions. Retired officers provided a pool from which the executive filled management positions in government and in publicsector enterprises. A small number of very senior officers had sufficient influence to render their actions virtually immune to investigation by law enforcement officials or to scrutiny by the domestic press.

Paraguay had one of the largest officers corps in Latin America. Officers in command of many of the most influential positions were members of the "old guard," who had supported Stroessner in his rise to power and had held command ever since. For a number of years, these long-serving generals had blocked promotions for middle-ranking officers, but resentment over this issue did not appear to be a serious problem during the 1980s.

The rank structure of the armed forces generally conformed to that used in the United States, except that Paraguay had two ranks equivalent to the United States army and air force first lieutenant and navy ensign and did not employ all of the ranks found in the United States military. The army had ten officer ranks ranging from second lieutenant to general. The eight air force officer ranks were identical to those of the army in level from second lieutenant to brigadier general, but did not include higher general officer ranks. Army and air force enlisted personnel had nine grades ranging in level from private first class to sergeant major, but naval enlistees had seven grades from the equivalent of seaman to master chief petty officer. The navy had nine officer ranks from ensign to vice admiral (see fig. 8).

Rank insignia for officers of the army and air force were indicated by a series of five-pointed stars on shoulder boards. Insignia for general, major general, and brigadier general consisted of four, three, and two gold stars, respectively, surmounted at the outer end by an embroidered wreath. Field-grade officers wore gold stars, and company-grade officers wore silver stars on shoulder boards. For parades, full dress, and special occasions, the shoulder boards were exchanged for gilt epaulettes. Naval officer ranks were indicated by gold-colored bands on the lower sleeve of the shirt. Army enlisted personnel wore yellow stripes and/or yellow bars on a red background; navy enlisted personnel wore black stripes on white background; and air force enlisted personnel wore light blue stripes on a blue background (see fig. 9).

The armed forces had both summer and winter uniforms. The three services had full dress, dress, and service uniforms for officers and parade, garrison, service, and field uniforms for enlisted personnel. The army winter service uniform was dark green, the navy's dark blue, and the air force's light blue. Navy officers wore all-white summer dress uniforms; army and air force officers wore a white shirt with summer dress uniforms for special occasions.

Data as of December 1988

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