9 March 2001
Original:  Spanish









          31.          Paraguay’s peasant population, which as mentioned earlier includes about one-half of the country’s population, is extremely hard hit by the economic crisis that affects Paraguay.  In this respect, it has been said that there is


mounting deterioration of the living conditions of the rural population, which has a significant impact on their capacity for food self-reliance, especially the peasant strata with less than three hectares (minifundia, or smallholders), 62% of whom live in poverty.  The abrupt loss of capacity to cover the food needs of this stratum of semi-wage-earning farmers, most of whom are employed in agricultural work in the same area, is likely associated with the loss of jobs due to the crisis in cotton, along with the limited availability of land and capital to restore their subsistence crops.[26]


          32.          Among the fundamental causes of the impoverishment of Paraguay’s peasant population is the lack of access to land.  In this respect, it is noted that


The peasant sectors were caught up once again, on the threshold of the 21st century, in a atavistic process of minifundización as a result of the demographic pressure on the land.  This process consists of the successive subdivisions of the original small plots, to make way for the new families that split off from the paternal home.




There is a close correspondence between minifundio and extreme poverty in the countryside, revealing that the determining cause of impoverishment is lack of access to land.




Approximately 1.5% of the rural properties, made up of latifundia devoted to extensive cattle-raising, control 79% of the productive area; at the other extreme, however, some 88% of rural properties, in the hands of peasant families, occupy only 8% of the productive areas.  This pattern of land distribution makes Paraguay among the countries of the world with the highest and most unjust concentration of property; this situation is aggravated bearing in mind that Paraguay has the highest percentage of peasant population of any country in Latin America.




The poor distribution of land embodies the principal mechanism of social exclusion, which casts the vast majority of the rural population into a life of privations.  Land reform continues to be a right not attained for more than half of the country’s rural population.[27]


          33.          In addition to the foregoing are the well-founded assertions according to which, in addition to an appropriate system for gaining access to the land, there is a need for “the state to give impetus to effective policies aimed at the productive transformation of the peasant sector, through favorable macroeconomic measures, as well as policies for socio-productive recovery that include investment in infrastructure and that strengthen the possibilities of micro-economic development of the family farm,” with a view to “recovering the integrity and vitality of peasant society, and endowing it with the capacity to tackle, autonomously, its full entry to modernity, beginning with breaking down the clientelistic political relations that subjugate it in dissociation and immobility.”[28]  



          34.          The right to work is a human right of special importance that is bound up with the enjoyment of many other rights.  In this respect, it should be noted that it is the first of the rights referred to in the Protocol of San Salvador.  That instrument, at Articles 6 and 7, provides that the states undertake “to adopt measures that will make the right to work fully effective,” and that they should guarantee, in their legislation, in particular, “[r]emuneration which guarantees, as a minimum, to all workers dignified and decent living conditions for them and their families.”


          35.          During its on-site visit to Paraguay, and afterwards, the Commission received a series of complaints on aspects concerning the right to work.  In general, the IACHR was told that


The human rights situation of Paraguayan workers has not improved; to the contrary, the prolonged recession the economy is suffering, aggravated by the political crises, has worsened the working and living conditions of Paraguayan workers.


The violations of workers’ rights in the last year are, in general, the same as those experienced repeatedly over the last decade, thus one can speak of a worrisome level of impunity due to the lack of punishment and the inability of society to generate corrective measures.[29] 


          36.          Another problematic issue on which the Commission has received information refers to the failure of businesses and other sectors of the economy to pay the minimum wage. In this respect, it is noted that


The employer sector uses the pressure of the informal workers in the labor market to adopt, de facto, more flexible levels of remuneration.  Union sources received fewer complaints of pay below the legal minimum wage in comparison to previous years, yet there were more cases in which the worker has a 10-hour work day yet is paid for only eight hours.


There are also cases in which child labor is hired in conditions verging on illegal exploitation, due to the poor health and safety conditions, in addition to the low compensation.  According to sources from the Central Nacional de Trabajadores (CNT), the latest complaints are from the services sector, such as supermarkets, where minors are made to work 14 to 16 hours for very low pay.


There are also reports of violations of the maximum number of hours in the work day, the most pathetic example being in the transportation sector.  Drivers work up to 16 hours daily ... without receiving the labor benefits established by law.[30]


          37.          The Commission also received complaints that indicate that many industrial, commercial, and services establishments do not cover medical and social security services, and that they do not file with the Social Security Institute (Instituto de Previsión Social), or do not pay their contributions to that Institute, so that when the time comes, workers do not have access to these services. In addition, the IACHR was told that many companies do not meet the minimum provisions relating to industrial safety and hygiene in the workplace, with the consequent detriment to the health and life of the workers in some cases.


          38.          In relation to union rights, it should be noted that Article 8 of the Protocol of San Salvador provides as follows:


Trade Union Rights


1. The States Parties shall ensure:


                    a.          The right of workers to organize trade unions and to join the union of their choice for the purpose of protecting and promoting their interests. As an extension of that right, the States Parties shall permit trade unions to establish national federations or confederations, or to affiliate with those that already exist, as well as to form international trade union organizations and to affiliate with that of their choice. The States Parties shall also permit trade unions, federations and confederations to function freely;


b. The right to strike.


2. The exercise of the rights set forth above may be subject only to restrictions established by law, provided that such restrictions are characteristic of a democratic society and necessary for safeguarding public order or for protecting public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others. Members of the armed forces and the police and of other essential public services shall be subject to limitations and restrictions established by law.


3. No one may be compelled to belong to a trade union.


          39.          In its on-site visit to Paraguay, the Commission met with the Central General de Trabajadores (CGT) of Paraguay, which, at the end of the meeting, delivered a letter to the IACHR indicating, among other things, as follows:


At the same time, we take this opportunity ... to denounce, to you, the persecution for union activity of which the leaders of public and private institutions in our country are victim, because we believe that the right to organize to improve living and working conditions and to struggle for at least minimal compliance with the labor laws are also fundamental rights of human beings.


They are persecuted for coming out in defense of their jobs, and others are persecuted and dismissed for struggling for better working conditions, in violation of the laws and the National Constitution, and worst of all, judicial orders to reinstate the workers are defied. For example, in the office of the Governor of Alto Paraná, the Governor, Mr. Jovino Urunaga, fired all the union leaders, dismantling the union organization, while the workers were not been paid their salaries for seven months.  This is just one of the cases that our union federation is handling.[31]


          40.          In the same vein, it has been noted that according to the records of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), from July to October 1999, 213 workers were fired for organizing a union, and there is persecution of trade union leaders to discourage or directly violate or lead to failure to renew collective bargaining agreements.  In addition,


the Ministry of Justice and Labor did not and does not have the capacity to enforce the collective bargaining agreements; rather, the unions perceive the labor authorities as abettors of the violations of labor rights committed by entrepreneurs, and they regard the mechanisms for state intervention as bureaucratic and dilatory.  Nonetheless, for the CUT this Ministry improved its image and operations in the last months of 1999, with the appointment of the former counsel to that federation as vice-minister of labor, which has speeded up the union procedures and given greater credibility to the Ministry’s inspections.[32]


          41.          In relation to the foregoing, one must take into account that the Commission is competent to hear individual complaints against a state party to the Protocol of San Salvador in relation to certain aspects of union rights.  In effect, under Article 8(1)(a) of that instrument, the states parties, among them Paraguay, undertake to guarantee the right of workers to organize unions and to join the union of their choosing to protect and promote their interests.  At the same time, Article 19(6) of the Protocol of San Salvador provides that if the aforementioned right, among others, is violated by “action directly attributable to a State Party to this Protocol may give rise, through participation” of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court in enforcing the system of individual petitions established in the American Convention.


          42.          In relation to the right to social security, Article 9 of the Protocol of San Salvador establishes as follows:


Right to Social Security


1. Everyone shall have the right to social security protecting him from the consequences of old age and of disability which prevents him, physically or mentally, from securing the means for a dignified and decent existence. In the event of the death of a beneficiary, social security benefits shall be applied to his dependents.


2. In the case of persons who are employed, the right to social security shall cover at least medical care and an allowance or retirement benefit in the case of work accidents or occupational disease and, in the case of women, paid maternity leave before and after childbirth.


          43.          The situation concerning the right to social security in Paraguay is plagued by serious shortcomings.  It has been noted in this respect, based on a study of the situation by the International Labor Organization (ILO), as follows:


The situation of the right to social security in Paraguay is dramatic, as an extremely small percentage of the population has access to it.




Among the main problems encountered are the low coverage, the high levels of evasion, and the scant transparency....  The lack of protection for disability, care for the elderly, and upon death, are particularly dramatic in the rural sector, as the most protected citizens are concentrated in the metropolitan area of Asunción.




The levels of evasion are extremely high, at more than 60%, according to the authorities of the Social Security Institute (IPS), the main social security agency.




As regards the handling of the agencies, there is still an absolute lack of transparency, both in the administration of the funds and in the information presented on the reality of the system.[33]


          F.          RIGHT TO HEALTH


          44.          The Protocol of San Salvador establishes, at Article 10, the following provisions concerning the right to health:


            Right to Health


1. Everyone shall have the right to health, understood to mean the enjoyment of the highest level of physical, mental and social well‑being.


2. In order to ensure the exercise of the right to health, the States Parties agree to recognize health as a public good and, particularly, to adopt the following measures to ensure that right:


a. Primary health care, that is, essential health care made available to all individuals and families in the community;


b. Extension of the benefits of health services to all individuals subject to the State's jurisdiction;


c. Universal immunization against the principal infectious diseases;


d. Prevention and treatment of endemic, occupational and other diseases;


e. Education of the population on the prevention and treatment of health problems, and


f. Satisfaction of the health needs of the highest risk groups and of those whose poverty makes them the most vulnerable.


          45.          In a study by Dr. Esperanza Martínez, of the Círculo Paraguayo de Médicos, she argues that as regards the right to health in Paraguay,


the opportunity to have access to health is directly related to the economic situation of the population, with the poor sanitary conditions of the context and the public policies of the Ministry of Health, which accounts for 75% of the resources earmarked to this area. The second agency with responsibility is the Social Security Institute, whose financial resources outstrip those of the Ministry of Health, and whose coverage is approximately 20% of the total population.  Both institutions have serious problems of corruption, efficiency, coverage, quality, and equity in the provision of services.




If the right to health is understood as the opportunity that all inhabitants of Paraguay should have to receive information, education, promotion, care, and rehabilitation services in the area of health, in a just and equitable manner, as established in the National Constitution, it is easy to conclude that 1999 has been characterized by serious backsliding as regards opportunities for the general population to receive health care, and more so for the neediest sectors.


The worsening of this situation is mainly due to the increase in poverty and the Government’s lack of social sensitivity when it comes to supporting the health sector with funds. In addition, corruption and political prebends constitute the greatest social cancer, making it impossible for the plans, projects, and resources allocated in the respective budgets to be used adequately and efficiently.[34]


          46.          Among the specific problematic points mentioned in the study cited are the detection of epidemic outbreaks of several diseases in the course of 1999; issues relating to maternal and child health, where it is noted that Paraguay has the third-highest rate of maternal mortality in Latin America, and that though there is a “Project for Maternal Health and Integral Development of the Child” financed by loans from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, that project “continues to have a very low level of attainment of goals and activities, approximately two years since it was begun, with the high financial cost it represents for the country.”  It is also noted that 1999 “was characterized by having the greatest deficit in the transfer of resources to the health sector which, together with the poor use of the scarce resources provided, causes the hospitals, health centers, and health posts to have practically no supplies, putting them in a situation of ‘technical work stoppage,’ as they cannot offer services to the population.”[35]


          G.          RECOMMENDATIONS


          47.          In view of the foregoing considerations, the Commission urges the Paraguayan State to accord higher priority and to muster greater political will to address issues related to social and economic rights.  The Paraguayan State should redouble its efforts to adopt policies that seek economic growth for the country that benefits the vulnerable social classes.  In this respect, the Human Development Report should be borne in mind where it states:  “Policies are needed to link growth and rights. The allocation of resources and the pattern of economic growth must be pro-poor, pro-human development and pro-human rights.”[36]


          48.          The specific strategies mentioned that should be taken into account in fighting poverty include:  “1. Pursuing pro-poor economic growth. Low-income countries need to accelerate their growth, but the pattern should be pro-poor, to benefit those in both income and human poverty.  2. Restructuring budgets. To provide adequate and non-discriminatory expenditures for primary human concerns, especially basic social services, requires a review of priorities and removal of discrimination against the most deprived.  3.  Ensuring participation. Poor people have a right to be consulted on decisions that affect their lives. This requires processes that expand political space -- to give voice to poor people and their advocates, including NGOs, free media and workers associations.  4.  Protecting environmental resources and the social capital of poor communities. The natural environment and social networks are resources poor people draw on for their livelihoods to escape poverty.  5.  Removing discrimination -- against women, ethnic minorities, racial groups and others.  Social reforms are needed to remove all forms of discrimination.”[37]


          49.          It is also important to bear in mind that, as indicated in a recent World Bank study, “‘social safety net’ measures such as unemployment insurance, subsidized school fees, job creation programs, and food subsidies are essential for eventual broad‑based recovery.”[38]


          50.          Moreover, the following considerations should also be taken into account, among other actions that have been recommended along these lines:


If economic growth today creates jobs which require higher skills, one basic ingredient for the reduction of poverty is to raise the skills of low‑income groups. This entails not only increasing the quantity, but more importantly, the quality, of education in the region, and also, promoting increased demand for educational services by programs which encourage school‑readiness and school attendance, and which encourage the use of health and nutrition services. 




Poverty is fundamentally linked to lack of access--by control or ownership--to productive and financial assets. Policies that can promote the poor’s access to assets include initiatives such as land reform, inheritance taxes, privatizations which distribute shares among the population, and housing and credit programs, to name some of the most important.


Actions which increase the poor’s access to market opportunities also comprise an important element of the poverty reduction arsenal. It is essential to correct failures in the credit market, eliminate discriminatory practices in the labor market and the judicial system, reduce restrictions to labor mobility, and guarantee title of property for the poor.[39] 


          51.          As regards more specific points, the Inter-American Commission recommends to the Paraguayan State that it accord due importance and respect to everything in the way of the right to work, trade union rights, and the right to social security, including measures aimed at guaranteeing observance of the minimum wage laws, which should be sufficient to cover the cost of the basic family market basket.  In addition, priority should be accorded to solving the structural problems related to the situation of the peasant population, and to the right to health for all persons under the jurisdiction of the Paraguayan State.

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[26] Barrios, Federico, Centro Paraguayo de Estudios Sociológicos (CPES), Pobreza Rural en Paraguay, study published in Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 1999, op. cit., pp. 284-285.

[27] Id., pp. 285-287.

[28] Id., pp. 290-291.

[29] Monte Domecq, Raúl, Gestión Local, Derecho al Empleo, study published in Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 1999, op. cit., p. 295.

[30] Id., p. 296.

[31] Central General de Trabajadores (CGT), letter to the IACHR dated July 30, 1999.

[32] Monte Domecq, Raúl, op. cit., pp. 295-296.

[33] Paredes, Roberto, Derecho a la Seguridad Social, study published in Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 1999, op. cit., pp. 345-346.

[34] Martínez, Esperanza, Círculo Paraguayo de Médicos, Derecho a la Salud, study published in Derechos Humanos en Paraguay 1999, op. cit., pp. 303-304.

[35] Id., pp. 304-305.

[36] Human Development Report 2000, op.cit., p. 82.

[37] Id., p. 78.

[38] World Bank, Press Release No. 99/2214/S of June 2, 1999.

[39] Inter-American Development Bank, Sustainable Development Department, The Inter-American Development Bank and Poverty Reduction: An Overview (Revised Version). By Nora Lustig and Ruthanne Deutsch.  (3/98, POV-101r, E, S)