Rage Spreads in Paraguay as Virus Surges, Exposing Corruption

Paraguay escaped the worst of the pandemic for almost a year, but no longer. For many people, the crisis has made the country’s longstanding problems intolerable.

By Santi Carneri and Daniel Politi

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — For nearly a year, Paraguay was a leader in keeping the pandemic at bay, and despite its persistent troubles, the country remained fairly calm. Not any more.

Paraguay’s coronavirus infection rate has soared, becoming one of the worst in the Americas, and its already shaky health system has been stretched to the breaking point. In the last few days, demonstrators by the thousands have filled streets, demanding the ouster of President Mario Abdo Benítez, and in a few instances there have been bloody clashes with the police.

For many Paraguayans, corruption and elite entitlement that were once just unpleasant facts of life have become intolerable in the face of the pandemic. There is a shortage of basic drugs that doctors and nurses blame on graft; nonemergency surgery has been suspended because of a shortfall in medical supplies, and there are few vaccines to be had.

The crisis has spilled into the streets with a level of rage the county’s leaders have not faced in years. Daily protests started last Friday with medical workers, who were quickly joined by other frustrated people. Most have been peaceful, but in some cases security forces have met the demonstrators with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.

“There are so many deaths and it is all the fault of the thieves who run our corrupt institutions,” said Sergio Duarte, who joined a demonstration outside of Congress on Saturday in Asunción, Paraguay’s capital and largest city.

The unrest in Paraguay is a snapshot of the massive challenges Latin America faces as the virus continues to take a heavy toll, while governments struggle to provide adequate health care and acquire enough vaccines.

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