In June, just before the events at Curuguaty that triggered the impeachment of President Lugo - a parliamentary coup - the Paraguayan house of representatives approved a draft law on professional soldiers with some amendments. It now still has to be approved by the Senate, but there is little doubt that the law will pass there without problems.
According to Jose Lopez, representative of the Union Nacional de Ciudadanos Eticos (UNACE) in the House of Representatives and chair of the parliamentary commission on national defence, the right to conscientious objection, which was introduced in Paraguay with the 1992 constitution, left "some military barracks practically empty". He continued that from 31,000 soldiers at the end of the Stroessner dictatorship in 1989, the strength of the country's Armed Forces declined to now only 17,000, and blamed conscientious objection "for ideological and dogmatical reasons" for this reduction.
According to the original draft law, the Paraguayan Armed Forces should be allowed to hire 1,460 soldiers between 19 and 26 years as professional soldiers, at an initial monthly salary of US$300 (Gs. 1.658.23). The military said that these professional soldiers "will be an indispensible help in the protection of our borders", where they will mainly be deployed.
The House of Representatives amended the original draft bill slightly, reducing the maximum age of professional soldiers from 26 to 22, and restricting the number of professional soldiers to not more than 60% of the total of soldiers.
While the budget already includes a budget item for 1,460 professional soldiers, the law implementing this is only now going through the House of Representatives and the Senate. The amended draft now needs to be approved by the Senate, and the Armed Forces are hopeful that this will happen within one month.
Conscientious objectors condemn "parliamentary coup" and call for civil disobedience
Meanwhile, following the ousting of President Fernando Lugo through a rushed impeachment procedure which has widely been condemned as a "parliamentary coup", the Movement for Conscientious Objection (MOC) Paraguay has joined the opposition to the coup and is calling for civil disobedience against an illegitimate "de-fact government". In its declaration, MOC refers to article 138 para 1 of the Paraguayan constitution, which states: "Citizens are hereby authorized to resist usurpers through every means available to them. If a person or a group of persons, acting in the name of any principle or representation contrary to this Constitution, was to seize public power, their action will be null, non-binding, and of no value, and therefore, exercising their right to resist oppression, the people will be excused from having to comply with such actions."
Sources: Fox News: Ley busca evitar que Paraguay se quede sin soldados, 13 June 2012; Paraguay.com: Piden aprobar la figura del soldado profesional, 13 June 2012; ABC.com.py: FF.AA. exhorta a aprobar ley de los “soldados profesionales”, 14 June 2012; La Nacion: FFAA espera la pronta aprobación del proyecto de soldado profesional, 11 June 2012; Movimiento de Objeción de Conciencia Paraguay: DESOBEDIENCIA CIVIL, COMO RESISTENCIA ANTE UN GOBIENO GOLPISTA, 26 June 2012