Paraguay Country Profile


Key Statistics

Population: 6.8 million (World Bank, 2013)

Capital: Asuncion

Languages: Spanish, Guarani

Major Ethnic Groups: mestizo (mixed Spanish and Amerindian) 95%, other 5%

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 4,515 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 7,456 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: 10,650 (Military Balance, 2014)

Small Arms: the estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in Paraguay is 1,000,000; the defence forces are reported to have 194,000 firearms; and Police are reported to have 26,000 firearms (Gun Policy, 2015) 

Military Expenditure: 1.6% of GDP (World Bank, 2013)

Executive Summary

Paraguay is facing an increasing role in the transnational narcotics trade. The country serves as a base for drug traffickers, particularly in the border regions with Brazil and Argentina. Recent seizures and arrests suggest that drug traffickers from across Latin America are now using Paraguay to run large-scale trafficking operations that supply not only domestic markets in neighbouring Argentina and Brazil, but also Europe.

Thankfully this has not yet translated into a widespread violence and indeed the country’s homicide rate has steadily decreased over the past decade and is among one of the lower ones in the region.

Corruption within the police and the justice system poses a major problem, and public confidence in law enforcement and judicial institutions is low. Politicisation of the judicial system is a serious issue and a legacy of the country’s authoritarian past and decades of single party rule. Paraguay’s National Police (Policia Nacional del Paraguay-PNP) are underfunded, insufficiently trained, corrupt, and mistrusted. The military also has issues of corruption, with elements tied to drug trafficking operations.

Addressing severe institutional weaknesses in the justice and security sectors is urgent, particularly as the rate of corruption in the country remains one of the worst in the region.

Security and Justice Context

Paraguay has seen an almost continual fall in its homicide rate since 2002 when the country registered a murder rate of 24.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. As of 2010, the most recent data available from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Paraguay's homicide rate was 11.5 per 100,000 a more than 50 percent drop since 2002 (See Annex 1.). According to statistics from the National Police, between January 1 and August 31 in 2011 and 2012, the country recorded 451 and 464 homicides respectively. If the rate at which homicides were committed in these years remained consistent, it would give both years a lower total then 2010 (741 murders).

Though the number of homicides has been decreasing, the National Police reported that crime increased by 9 percent overall in 2011, with theft and violent theft rising the most.

Illicit drug trafficking and production are major challenges for Paraguay. According to the UNODC, the country is the biggest producer of marijuana in the region and accounts for around 15 percent of the global trade in this drug. Furthermore, it is located next to South America's two largest drug-consuming countries; Argentina and Brazil. Lax border security and the absence of significant air control mechanisms have made Paraguay a favoured transit point for drug flights carrying cocaine from Bolivia and Peru. Once in Paraguay, the cocaine is trafficking into neighbouring nations as well as on to Europe and West Africa.

Due to its key role in the transnational drug trade, Paraguay has become a site for organised criminal groups. Drug traffickers, along with arms traffickers, counterfeiters, and money launderers, take advantage of the country's weak law enforcement and porous borders. Most prominent among the international criminal groups are those from Brazil, particularly the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital-PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho). Paraguayan officials have estimated that up to 80 percent of Paraguayan marijuana is smuggled to Brazil with only 10 percent being consumed domestically.

Paraguay’s domestic drug market is controlled predominantly by local gangs. Though the size of Paraguay’s drug market is not large, the use of crack cocaine has been on the rise in recent years.

Paraguay has a high number of illegal weapons. It is estimated that of the 1 million weapons in civilian hands in the country, only one third are legally registered. In addition, the country's lax gun laws also make it an important transit site for the regional illicit arms trade, particularly for firearms being moved into neighbouring Brazil. Firearms are used in approximately 60 percent of homicides in the country. The global average stands at 42 percent.

As well as facing organised criminal groups and domestic gangs, the government must confront a small leftist guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People's Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo-EPP) which is believed to number between 50 and 100 fighters. The EPP is primarily engaged in kidnapping and extortion, and is active in the northern department of Concepción and central San Pedro department. Its main targets are wealthy landowners with messages having been found after attacks against large ranch owners calling for them to stop intensive farming and provide food and medical services for local communities[1] .

In April 2010, the government declared a 30-day "state of exception" in response to a series of violent incidents allegedly involving the EPP. The following year the EPP sharply increased its activities. There is also evidence suggesting the EPP has begun broadening its tactics to include more targeted assassinations and attacks on infrastructure. In response, the government has stepped up its efforts to suppress the small, elusive guerrilla group, but measures such as the state of exception (used again in October 2011) have faced criticism from many policymakers and human rights groups, who say the measure is ineffective and inappropriate.

President Federico Franco has claimed that the EPP are the “long arm” of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the hemisphere’s largest rebel insurgency. However, there is little concrete evidence to substantiate this claim.

Extreme inequality in land ownership in Paraguay, which has a predominantly agricultural economy, has led to conflict between landowners and poor farmers. This inequality is partly a legacy of more than three decades of dictatorship (1954-1989) under Colorado Party (Asociación Nacional Republicana-Partido Colorado–ANR-PC) leader Alfredo Stroessner, who rewarded his supporters with land. In June 2012, an operation to remove squatters from a wealthy landowner's property ended in the death of six police officers and eleven peasant farmers. The scandal over this incident triggered the impeachment of President Fernando Lugo, whose election in 2008 had ended the Colorado Party's six decades of rule, who was replaced by Vice President Franco.

Journalists are frequently subject to harassment and violence from both politicians and criminal groups, particularly in the border region with Brazil. Government officials have publicly questioned the role of human rights organisations, particularly those involved in calling attention to abuses by security forces.

Perceptions of Insecurity

According to Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), the perception of insecurity in Paraguay has fallen significantly over the past few years, dropping from a score of 41.7 points in 2010 to 29.8 in 2012[2] (See Figure 2.). This gave Paraguay the fourth best ranking in 2012, beaten only by Jamaica, Canada, and the United States.

Few Paraguayans believe crime is their country's biggest issue, especially compared to other countries in the region; according to the 2012 LAPOP survey, 23.7 percent of Paraguayans reported that crime or violence was the most important problem compared to 52.9 percent who saw the economy as being the most important problem.

Fig. 2 Paraguay Perception of Insecurity 2010 and 2012

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

The Supreme Court of Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia) is the country's highest court and consists of nine justices who are nominated by the Council of Magistrates (Consejo de Magistratura) and confirmed by the Senate and the president. The court is divided into three chambers: Constitutional (Sala Constitucional), Civil (Sala Civil), and Criminal (Sala Penal). Below the Supreme Court are Courts of First Instance (Juzgados de Primera Instancia) below which are Courts of Peace (Juzgados de Paz). The Courts of Peace have jurisdiction over localised matters, while Courts of First Instance are more specialised with separate chambers to hear cases relating to civil, criminal and commercial matters respectively

Instead of juries, trials involve three-judge tribunals, with a majority opinion required to convict; for misdemeanour cases, one judge presides. There are appeals tribunals (Tribunal de Apelación) to hear appeals from the lower courts though final appellate jurisdiction rests with the Supreme Court. The military has its own court system, overseen by the Supreme Court of Military Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia Militar).

The independent Public Ministry (Ministerio Público) is responsible for pursuing public prosecutions and is headed by the country’s attorney general (Fiscal General del Estado). Prosecutors in the country are divided among specialised units and between twelve geographic areas throughout the country.

The Prosecutor General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República) represents and defends the interests of the state.

A national Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) is charged with defending the human rights of Paraguayan citizens against the state.

Paraguay's court system is inefficient and highly corrupt, with allegations of irregularities going all the way to the Supreme Court. There are frequent reports of bribery among judges and prosecutors, and of politicians interfering with investigations. Although the constitution stipulates that the judiciary is independent, in practice there is constant political interference, particularly in the judicial selection process; in the 2012-2013 World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, Paraguay placed 141st out of 144 countries for judicial independence. Wealthy and well-connected defendants enjoy a high level of impunity.

Lengthy pre-trial detention is a major issue due to corruption and inefficiencies within the judiciary, particularly in rural areas. Under Paraguay’s constitution, accused persons can be held without trial for as long as the minimum sentence for the alleged crime.  The law grants defendants the right to counsel, although the high caseloads of many public defenders mean that the quality of representation for poor defendants is uneven.

Prison conditions are harsh; Paraguay's prisons are overcrowded, violent, and have inadequate human and material resources. As of 2011, the country's 15 penitentiaries were operating close to 20 percent over capacity. Corruption among prison guards has often been reported.

Paraguay’s penitentiary system is managed by the General Directorate of Prisons and Criminal Enforcement (Dirección General de Establecimientos Penitenciarios y Ejecución Penal) which is housed under the Ministry for Justice and Work (Ministerio de Justicia y Trabajo).

Security Institutions

The country's principal police force, the National Police (Policía Nacional del Paraguay – PNP), is housed under the Ministry of the Interior (Ministerio del Interior). As of 2011, it had around 24,570 employees. Counternarcotics and counterterrorism are handled by the Antinarcotics Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas - SENAD) and the Antiterrorism Secretariat (Secretaría de Prevención e Investigación del Terrorismo–SEPRINTE), respectively; both are part of the executive branch and are under the president's authority.

The PNP are inadequately trained and under resourced. As of 2011, only 7,000 of the 24,570 employees actually conducted street patrols, while the rest were responsible for administrative duties.

Corruption is a major problem; there are frequent instances of police involvement in crime, including homicide, kidnapping, extortion, and drug trafficking, particularly in the border region with Brazil. There have been reports of torture, procedural irregularities excessive use of force, and abusive treatment of detainees by security forces. Several high profile cases of police brutality have undermined public trust in law enforcement and led to protests. Due to the public’s lack of faith in the police and the justice system, many crimes go unreported while complaints against police generally go unresolved. In the 2012 LAPOP survey, Paraguay registered a score of 41.6 points[3] , placing it above Bolivia and Peru, but below countries like Colombia, Argentina, El Salvador and Brazil (See Figure 3.).


Fig. 3 Paraguay Confidence in Police 2012

There have reports of government cover-ups in cases of security force members engaging in criminal activity, including kidnappings and homicide.

Under the law, police cannot arrest and detain suspects without a warrant signed by a judge, and detainees must appear before a judge within 24 hours. However, there are some reports of detention without a warrant.

The armed forces consist of the ground (Ejército Paraguayo), naval (Armada Paraguaya), and air forces (Fuerza Aerea Paraguaya) and has 12,221 personnel in total.

The military is directly responsible to the president. The Defence Ministry (Ministerio de Defensa) is also under the president's authority but outside the military's chain of command. Under Paraguay’s constitution, active duty members of the military cannot participate in politics.

In general, civilian authorities maintain control over security forces, and there are mechanisms to investigate and punish corruption and abuses, although they are not always properly enforced. There have also been cases of corruption in the military, with serving members having been arrested for aiding drug traffickers. Some reports claim that the military allows Brazilian drug traffickers to operate with impunity while supplying them with arms.

Paraguay for All (Paraguay Para Todos y Todas) is the country's long-term strategic development plan for 2010-2020. With regards to citizen security, the plan aims to implement crime prevention strategies throughout the country that involve inter-agency participation, strengthen the police, and promote reform of the judicial system. The plan also targets improving access to justice for all citizens, among other goals.

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reforms and Initiatives

In 2008, the Ministry of Justice and Work (Ministerio de Justicia y Trabajo) and civil society organisation the Centre for Judicial Studies (Centro de Estudios Judiciales-CEJ) launched the Plan for Justice with Dignity (Plan de Justicia con Dignidad), an attempt to improve the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Justice and Work, modernise the judicial system, and improve access to justice.

Despite scattered initiatives such as this, however, Paraguay has not implemented any major legal reform recently. Over the past few years, many NGOs and civil society leaders have publicly called for a major judicial reform to address problems of corruption and inefficiency.

In early 2013, the CEJ and a group of other civil society organisations launched a plan for justice reform called the "Political Agenda 2013 for Judicial Reform" ("Agenda Political 2013 para la Reforma Judicial"), hoping to increase debate on judicial reform in anticipation of the country's April 2013 elections.

Security Sector Reforms and Initiatives

In recent years, Paraguay has not implemented any majors reforms of the PNP, but the government has undertaken efforts to improve the police force's human rights record. In 2011, the PNP adopted a new manual on the use of force and new rules were created to improve transparency and respect for human rights. Also in 2011, the Public Ministry created a special human rights unit to investigate and prosecute abuses.

In July 2010 the interior minister decreed that all police officers must report their net worth in an attempt to cut down on police corruption, but this has generally not been enforced.

The Interior Ministry announced in August 2012 that a new security council–supported by the presidency, Interior Ministry and the Defence Ministry–has been created to help the fight against drug trafficking and the EPP rebels.  The Council aims to better coordinate intelligence sharing between Paraguayan security agencies and is headed by a former head of the armed forces.

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

Paraguay has a bicameral parliament, made up of the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and the Senate (Cámara de Senadores). In addition to legislating, Congress has the power to act as comptroller and to investigate and require reports from the administration. The Senate must authorize the president to declare a State of Exception. 

Despite having the constitutional powers of oversight, corruption within Paraguayan politics means that this may not be enforced to the required level to keep the executive in check.

Security and Justice Opportunities

Corruption is a serious problem at all levels of government. Although there are criminal penalties for official corruption under Paraguayan law, in practice these laws are not implemented effectively. In the 2012 edition of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Paraguay ranked 150th out of 176 countries, with a score of 25[4] . This score was a slight improvement on the previous year’s but the country’s low rating reveals that engaging with the government on reform initiatives should be approached with caution.

Paraguay has received significant assistance from outside actors in the past, including other states and international organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation has engaged with Paraguay on a programme to improve anti-corruption efforts by strengthening the investigative capacity of the Public Ministry, improving internal control in the judiciary, and reforming the PNP. In the past, the PNP and the Ministry of the Interior have received technical assistance from SOUTHCOM and USAID.

Justice Sector Opportunities

There is significant opportunity for aiding both judicial and security sector reform. Some of the principal challenges facing the judicial system are inefficiency and lack of transparency, which contribute to the population's perception that the courts are unfair.

The proposal for judicial reform presented by CEJ and other civil organisations included proposals to create new bodies such as a Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Anti-Corruption (Ministerio de Justicia, Derecho Humanos, y Anticorruption), forging new judicial career law, reorganising the Supreme Court, and other efforts to democratise the judicial system. The pressure being exerted by these groups highlights their importance as a partner in terms of consultation when engaging with the government on judicial reform.

One of the most intractable problems in the Paraguayan judicial system is politicisation. Although directly tackling this problem is likely to be difficult, helping to modernise and democratise the procedures for selection of judges, and perhaps creating a new judicial career law, are possible steps for reducing politicisation.

Security Sector Opportunities

The PNP is in dire need of additional resources and training, particularly in the area of investigative capacity, and there is a serious need for professionalising the force. The biggest challenges for Paraguay's police force, and the area where it could use the most assistance, are building its investigative capacity and controlling police abuse and corruption.

Paraguayan policymakers and officials have repeatedly stated publicly their desire for more police and better police training. There are opportunities to assist with improving and expanding recruitment programmes, reforming evaluation and vetting procedures, developing and expanding police training programmes, and creating supplementary training courses for officers on issues such as use of force, respecting human rights, and properly investigating crimes.

Another important opportunity for engagement includes helping the PNP improve its internal control and disciplinary mechanisms to establish better oversight of corruption, and developing new community relations or community policing initiatives to improve the relationship between the police and the population.

The issue of purging the military of corrupt elements should also be broached with the government since this poses a significant hindrance to the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking in the country.

Civil Society Actors for Engagement

Paraguay has many civil society organisations and NGOs aimed at improving the country’s respect for human rights, including many indigenous organizations. The Coordinator of Human Rights in Paraguay[5] (Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos Paraguay-CODEHUPY) is an alliance of 33 NGOs and civic organisations that collaborate on defending human rights.

There are also civil society organisations in Paraguay actively involved in pushing for judicial reform, as mentioned above. CEJ works to improve the quality of justice in Paraguay. The Institute for the Consolidation of the Rule of Law[6] (Institutopara la Consolidación del Estado de Derecho-ICED) promotes the consolidation of democratic institutions and reform of the judicial system.


Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2012–Paraguay,” July 2012

Gobierno de Paraguay, “Paraguay para Todos y Todas: Propuesta de Política Pública para el Desarrollo Social 2010-2012,” No publication date available

Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina, “Atlas Comparativo de la Defensa en América Latina y Caribe Edición 2012,” October 2012

Small Arms Survey, “Small Arms Survey 2012: Moving Targets,” August 2012

Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, “Paraguay–Gun Facts, Figures and Law,”Data retrieved from

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2010: Democratic Consolidation in the Americas in Hard Times,” December 2010

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2012: Towards Equality of Opportunity,” January 2013

Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2012,” December 2012

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Homicide Statistics 2012,” Data set retrieved from

U.S. Department of State, “2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” May 2012

U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, “Paraguay 2012 Crime and Safety Report,” April 2012

World Economic Forum, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013,” September 2012


[1] Despite their claims of representing disenfranchised rural communities, the EPP appears to have been unable to establish any kind of popular support from these people.

[2]  LAPOP recodes respondents’ answers into a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher perception of insecurity.

[3] LAPOP recodes respondents’ answers into a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher degree of confidence.

[4] Countries are scored between 0 and 100, with 100 being least corrupt.

[5] More information on their website:

[6] More information on their website:

Igarapé Institute

The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:

  1. Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
  2. Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
  3. Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.