The government of Paraguay claims to have taken steps toward improving development effectiveness in the context of better cooperation among various actors, especially with the establishment of National Development Programs in 2005. Under the principle of alignment, partners in development cooperation commit themselves to supporting policies, strategies, plans and budgetary frameworks developed by partner country governments.
However, under successive administrations – President Frutos, 2008; President Lugo, 2008; and President Cartes, 2013 – the active involvement of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of these policies has been quite limited.
The present paper takes four angles of analysis to explain this situation: first, through a review of the legal frameworks that facilitate the participation of CSOs in the country; the political environment in Paraguay that has limited or enabled the opportunities CSOs actually have to engage in advocacy; the sociocultural context and the economic context in which CSOs work – all areas that must be addressed by the State and civil society, which have presented these as their key demands.
It concludes that significant economic growth in Paraguay has had only a moderate impact on reducing poverty rates among large segments of the population. Similarly, domestic political uncertainties have shaken the country, not least with impeachment of President Lugo in 2012, which led to the persecution of leaders of social organizations, especially those working in the field of human rights.
The impact of cuts in financial support flowing to Paraguayan CSOs has had a dampening impact on civil society. Over the last 3 years, at least 100 non-governmental organizations have had to close their doors; and some 300 have had to downsize, restricting their areas of work and opportunities for political advocacy and engagement. Moreover, resources that the Paraguayan State allocates to social organizations are basically oriented to carrying out “charity” work for highly vulnerable populations.
Granted, the country has progressed as far as the formal implementation by a number of government agencies and civil society of policies related to the promotion and defense of human rights. In recent years, however, with the emergence of an insurgent group in the north, along with the sustained growth of drug trafficking groups, human rights have come under threat. There has been a further militarization of social life, especially in the northern departments, along with an increase in the activities of control and monitoring of civil society activities
In the area of gender equity and equality there are important achievements such as the considerable increase in school coverage, but at the same time there are also signs of higher rates of violence against women and girls.
In the environmental field, the progressive growth of the soybean crop has displaced large groups of people, greatly expanding the number of displaced families now living on the peripheries of large cities, often lacking basic services, employment opportunities, and social protection.
The expansion of the agricultural frontier has led to the destruction of thousands of hectares of forests; and the intensification of extreme weather phenomena, including stronger and more frequent bouts of “El Niño” and “La Niña”, droughts, and flooding.
The practice of transparency and accountability remains a challenge in the country. While the state has tried to launch a process of professionalization of civil servants, corruption remains widespread, even at the highest levels of government.
In this light, opportunities for greater involvement by CSOs in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development policies in the country remains to be seen – though the expansion of modern communications technology has facilitated broader exchanges among civil society.
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