Opposition Parties

Opposition Parties

The existence of many factions within the Colorado Party did not indicate real pluralism but rather the fragmentation of an old political movement that had enjoyed both the benefits and the stresses of supporting a personalized authoritarian rule. By the same token, the existence of opposition political parties could not be considered evidence of true representative democracy.

Opposition parties faced formidable obstacles in attempting to challenge Colorado Party control. For example, the Colorado Party's virtual monopoly on positions and patronage made it difficult for other parties to obtain the necessary numbers of signatures for legal recognition. In addition, the Colorados held a two-thirds majority on the Central Electoral Board. At the same time, however, the government needed the political participation of at least some opposition parties in order to support the posture of democracy. The Constitution reserves one-third of the congressional seats for opposition parties, regardless of their share of the vote. Even so, most of the opposition did not participate in elections; indeed, only three opposition parties--the PL, the Radical Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Radical--PLR), and the Febrerista Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Febrerista--PRF)--had legal recognition in the late 1980s.

Between 1947 and 1962, the Colorado Party was the only legal party. With the consolidation of Stroessner's power and the prodding of the administration of United States president John F. Kennedy, however, in 1962 the general granted legal standing to a Liberal splinter group, the Renovation Movement (Movimiento Renovación). The Renovationists participated in the 1963 elections; as the president's loyal opposition, they began to enjoy some of the privileges formerly reserved only for the Colorados. In 1967, after two decades in exile, the PLR accepted Stroessner's offer of legal participation and returned to participate in elections. In 1976 the two Liberal factions unsuccessfully sought to form a single party; the Renovation Movement then changed its name to the Liberal Party. The other legal party, the PRF, was organized following Colonel Rafael Franco's overthrow of the Liberal Party in 1936. The PRF, more commonly known as the Febreristas, received legal recognition in 1965. The Febreristas affiliated with the Socialist International in 1965 and claimed to have 50,000 active members in 1986.

In the early 1970s, the Febreristas and the bulk of the PLR withdrew from elections following their refusal to endorse the constitutional amendment allowing Stroessner to stand for unlimited reelection. The breakaway faction of the PLR lost its legal status and renamed itself the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico--PLRA). Thus, the PLR and the remaining wing of the PL were the only challenges to the Colorado Party in the elections of 1973, 1978, 1983, and 1988. The PLR and PL thereby were entitled to occupy one-third of the seats in the National Congress, although their combined average vote in the elections was only 10 percent. Neither had the organization, finances, or human resources to oppose the Colorados effectively.

In addition to the PLRA, other nonlegal parties included the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano--PDC) and the Colorado Popular Movement (Movimiento Popular Colorado-- Mopoco). The PDC was founded in 1960. The government allowed the legalization of parties in the early 1960s but required new ones to have 10,000 members. Although the PDC lacked the necessary members, it claimed that it was exempt from the new law because the party had already existed before the law was passed. The government rejected this argument, however, contending that the law was based on a 1959 decree law. The government's contention was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Mopoco was founded in 1959 by Colorados who had served in the administration of Federico Chaves, Stroessner's predecessor. The party leadership was forced into exile because of continued opposition to Stroessner and did not return to Paraguay until 1981 under an amnesty provision. The leaders discovered subsequently, however, that the amnesty did not truly reflect a change in government policy, as they became subject once again to harassment and imprisonment. In addition, because Mopoco was not a legally recognized political party, it could not communicate with the electorate.

In 1979 the Febreristas, PLRA, PDC, and Mopoco founded the National Accord. All claimed to be center left and reformist, and they were carefully and vocally anti-Marxist. The Accord's fourteen-point platform stressed the need for nonradical but basic reforms, including an end to the state of siege, freedom for political prisoners, amnesty for exiles, respect for human rights, elimination of repressive legislation, and a broadly representative government that would prepare society for free elections within two years. Specifically to further free elections, the Accord called for the abolition of the Electoral Statute. Despite government attempts to destroy the momentum of the Accord by expelling PLRA leader Domingo Laíno in December 1982, the Accord held together.

The Accord benefited from the legal status of the Febreristas. As a legally recognized party, the Febreristas could hold meetings and rallies, offer an umbrella to the other members of the Accord, and publish--until 1987--a weekly newspaper, El Pueblo. Nonetheless, the police often used force to break up Accord rallies and arrest its leadership. The human rights organization Americas Watch charged that eighty-four Accord political activists had been arbitrarily arrested between early 1985 and March 1986. In addition, component parties of the Accord were often divided not only among themselves but also internally. In July 1987, a new party, the Popular Democratic Movement (Movimiento Democrático Popular--MDP), was formed. The MDP strongly criticized the regime, oriented itself toward the lower classes, and offered a program to the left of the National Accord parties.

The Paraguayan Communist Party (Partido Comunista Paraguayo-- PCP) was less significant than other opposition political parties, was excluded from the National Accord, and had been isolated historically from other parties, even in exile. It was proscribed by the 1955 Law for the Defense of Democracy, Law 209 of 1970, and the Electoral Statute. The tight control of the political environment and the presence of the Colorado Party local committees in even small communities virtually prohibited the radical left's penetration in Paraguay.

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