The dawn of this Sunday (7) began with a new clash between demonstrators and the police in Paraguay, after an attempt to force the entry of the presidential residence, Mburuvicha Róga, in Asunción. Eight protesters were arrested.
Throughout the night, the streets of the capital were once again filled with protesters, most of whom peacefully complained about the actions of President Mario Abdo Benítez in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
They are calling for more inputs, hospital beds and vaccines against Covid-19 – on the posters they also questioned the restrictions imposed by the government: “we are locked up for nothing”.
Since Friday evening (5), demonstrations have called for the resignation of the center-right president, an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro in Mercosur.
In the first phase of the pandemic, Paraguay managed to keep contamination levels low thanks to severe quarantine measures, but the arrival of new variants, including that of Brazil, increased the number of infections and put the pressure on the health system.
The health crisis had already caused the departure of Minister Julio Mazzoleni last week.
After spending almost every Saturday (6) meeting with ministers and supporters, Abdo Benítez made a statement calling for unity and respect for security protocols, at the same time as he warned that in the coming days, changes would be announced in his office. .
A few hours later, he announced the first part of the ministerial reform. The most anticipated name is that of the new Minister of Health, who will be cardiologist Julio Borba, who takes on the mission of obtaining more vaccine contracts. The Minister of Education and the Minister for Women also left, as well as the Chief of Staff, Juan Ernes Villamayor.
The president seeks to avoid political judgment, which in Paraguay is very similar to the “impeachment” of Brazil, but can happen much faster if there is a majority.
For now, his party, Colorado, is divided between a smaller group, loyal to the president, and a larger group of parliamentarians of the current Honor Colorado, allied to former President Horacio Cartes. It was Honor Colorado who supported Abdo Benítez in 2018 and made sure he did not fall after a scandal related to the binational company Itaipu.
For the time being, Abdo Benítez has the support of Honor Colorado, but other opposition parties demand that, Monday (8), the political judgment be debated.
The fact that the street protests are intense may lead Cartes to change their mind.
If Friday evening was more violent, with 21 injured and one dead, Saturday evening saw no major problems, even though there was a strong popular presence in the streets.
Police said the dead protester, 32, was hit by a stabbing weapon and could have been the victim of a robbery. But the Ultima Hora newspaper published a medical report that reported rubber gunshot wounds in the man’s chest.
Abdo Benítez said in his recorded message to accept and listen to peaceful protests, but he took a stand against the most violent. Interior Minister Arnaldo Giuzzio said there was a group of infiltrators, whose purpose was to vandalize and compromise the government, injuring citizens.
“The report we received shows that there was a small group jumping and screaming and after an order they started to act violently. The rest of the protest was absolutely peaceful,” Giuzzio said.
Opposition leaders said they would present a demand for political judgment by Abdo Benítez on Monday (8). “He must go, the president and the vice. We are meeting to investigate what is going on. We are paying for vaccines that have never reached the population,” said Efraín Alegre, of the liberal party.
Carlos Fillizola, of left wing Frente Guazú, said it was necessary to ensure that the demonstrators “speak freely”, and called for the population to continue to mobilize “to put pressure on the departure of ‘Abdo Benítez and Hugo Velázquez “, also referring to the vice-president.