Photos from Paraguay's Violent Political Crisis
Main image: A demonstrator holds the flag of Paraguay, with Congress, in the background, in flames. All photos by Chelo Encina/VICE.
protest

Photos from Paraguay's Violent Political Crisis

A dispute over a constitutional amendment allowing the reelection of the president has led to the burning of Congress and the death of an activist.
April 5, 2017, 4:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE Brazil.

Paraguay's political crisis turned violent last Thursday, when senators allied with President Horacio Cartes and former left-wing president Fernando Lugo approved a bill advancing a constitutional amendment that would allow presidents to seek reelection. In response, outraged protesters took to the streets and set fire to the Congress building. In turn, they met heavy police opposition. In the aftermath of the events, Rodrigo Quintana, leader of the Liberal Youth of the La Colmena district, was shot and killed by police when they stormed the Authentic Radical Liberal Party's (PLRA) headquarters in the capital city of Asunción on Friday.

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The situation in the country deteriorated after Cartes, who heads the conservative Colorado Party, indicated he wanted to change the constitution so he could be reelected after his first term runs out in 2018. In Paraguay, a country that lived under harsh dictatorship until 1992, a presidential term spans five years, and presidents are limited to one term each. Also supporting the amendment is the Guasú Front, Lugo's party, who was impeached in 2012. Twenty-five lawmakers who supported the reelection bill gathered to vote outside Congress on the Guasú Front premises on Friday, deliberately excluding 20 senators who opposed the bill, like the Senate president, Roberto Acevedo, who encouraged the Senate to block the vote. The move was considered by many to be a "parliamentary coup," and other Latin American governments have strongly criticized the situation.

The Congress building, in Asunción, was totally destroyed.

The reelection bill's approval provoked the ire of protesters and lawmakers alike, leading to a violent protest around and inside the Congress building Thursday. Approximately 1,000 people invaded the area, setting fire to the main hall, while police used rubber bullets and clashed with demonstrators in the streets. An estimated 12 people were injured in the first few hours of the demonstration. The following day, Cartes dismissed both Minister of the Interior Tadeo Rojas and National Police Commander Crispulo Sotelo. Demonstrators blocked off the the Paraguayan side of Friendship Bridge on Friday until it reopened the next day at dawn.

Protesters destroy the Congress building in Asunción. 

On Saturday, police went to the PLRA's headquarters, which opposes Cartes's government, to arrest protesters agitating against the presidential reelection bill. Officers fired several shots that struck Rodrigo Quintana, resulting in his death shortly thereafter at a hospital. The Ministry of the Interior issued a statement announcing that the circumstances of Quintana's death will be investigated; Efrain Alegre, the president of the PLRA, also confirmed the young man's death, describing the police's seizure of the party's headquarters as "barbaric."

A protester shows injuries sustained in a confrontation with police.

Cartes has not appeared in public since Friday but published an official statement calling for "calm."

"We continue to live in a state of law and we must not allow some barbarians to destroy the peace, tranquility and general well-being of the Paraguayan people," the statement continued.

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Here are more photos of the conflict at the Paraguayan Congress.

Police officers during the protests.

The Congress building in flames.

Demonstrators flee the police during the protest.

Protesters push their way into the Congress building. 

A protester suffering from the effects of tear gas and stun grenades.

A protester holds a police shield.

Police used tear gas when trying to contain the protesters.

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