Paraguay – A Nation in Transformation

Eric Olsen
October 24, 2014

An emerging democracy in the heart of South America, Paraguay is introducing transformational political and social reforms that reflect a renewed commitment to the principles, values and traditions of Latin America’s diverse peoples.

Pantheon of the Heroes, Asunción, Paraguay

To most observers, Paraguay seems an unlikely prospect to lead a movement in Latin America toward effective governance, transparency and broad-based social reform. In the shadow of powerful Brazil and Argentina, Paraguay has long numbered among South America’s poorest and most unequal nations.

About the size of Japan with a population of just 6.5 million, Paraguay shares with much of Latin America a troubled history of authoritarian rule, rampant corruption and extreme wealth disparity. Repression reached its nadir during the 35-year regime of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989), one of the longest-ruling dictators of the twentieth century, until his ouster in a military coup.

Free elections in May 1993 marked a turning point, but independent assessments by Transparency International and other watchdogs caution that major reforms must be implemented to ensure civil liberties, equitable economic development, and independence of the judiciary.

Thus it appeared in 2007 when Global Peace Foundation (GPF) founder Dr. Hyun Jin P. Moon first visited the country and addressed the National Congress on the need for ethics and values to inform the political process.

Impressed by the receptivity of his message among the broad spectrum of national leaders, Dr. Moon decided to organize a Global Peace Festival in Paraguay, the first of many that would become a signature peace initiative of GPF.

The Global Peace Foundation hosted city-wide social impact projects in Asunción (above) prior to the Global Peace Festival, which drew some 30,000 young people to celebrate Paraguay’s cultural heritage.

“The idea was to celebrate a culture of heart and service,” says Thomas Field, the festival co-chair, GPF Paraguay founding director, and current GPF Latin America regional director. “This was a chance for young people to see their country, their culture, in a different, more optimistic light and uphold values of faith and family that are important to the Paraguayan people.”

To lead up to the festival GPF organized city-wide social impact projects for two months. On July 3, 2008 several thousand school-children from 70 city schools joined a city-wide service and beautification project co-sponsored by the City of Asunción, the first of its kind in the country.

The festival on July 5 drew some 30,000 young people and was remarkable in planting a vision of a truly inclusive, ethical and harmonious society. “Before we are Paraguayans, or Americans, or Koreans; before we are Christian, Muslim or Jew, we must understand our fundamental identity as one family under God,” Dr. Moon said.

The way of the vaqueros

Prior to the festival the GPF chairman went on a tour of the Chaco, a vast, arid region that comprises all of northern Paraguay and extends into Argentina and Bolivia. Moved by the simplicity of life and depth of heart of the Chaco people, he determined to organize a cattle drive in the manner of traditional Chaco ranchers, and invited the sons and daughters of the top families in Paraguay.

“These are the future leaders of Paraguay,” he later said. “But they had never visited these poor regions. I deliberately got rid of the good tents, nice food and also the showering facilities. We ate and slept with the same schedules as the cowboys called vaqueros who run these cattle drives.

“About three days into the cattle drive, I gave my food and candy away to the women of a local village. The women who received food from usreciprocated by cooking two of the four chickens they were raising in their yard for us. Seeing these poor families give half the food they possessed moved all of us.

GPF Chairman Dr. Hyun Jin Moon emphasized the importance of shared valued values for national renewal in meetings with Paraguayan leaders. Dr. Moon meets here with Congressman Ariel Oviedo.

“It created a greater impact than any speech,” Moon continued. “During a Global Peace Leadership Conference that was held before the festival, I shared what had happened in this village to all the leaders of Paraguay. I said to them, if this is the true spirit of Paraguay, then Paraguay will become a great nation. The peace movement that I am carrying out is this kind of work.”

Following the festival, the Global Peace Foundation established its first national branch and began a systematic examination of the conditions and requirements to bring about genuine national transformation in Paraguay. Many such conditions were already in place.

•  Paraguay has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, rated third in growth in 2010 and in 2013, with 13 percent growth, the fastest growing economy in the world.

• Paraguay has had eight consecutive years of fiscal surpluses, allowing the country to decrease its public external debt from more than 50 percent of GDP to less than 10 percent.

•  Paraguay’s economy is well-diversified, with about 25 percent of its GDP coming from its industrial sector, 20 percent from agriculture and 60 percent from services. . Paraguay has the strongest monetary stability in Latin America, without sharp devaluations of currency or freezing of capital.

• After construction of the Itaipu Dam, among the world’s largest hydroelectric facilities and a joint project with Brazil, Paraguay has cheap and abundant electrical power and has become the largest electricity exporter in the world.

• Paraguay’s land is rich in natural resources, abundant minerals and raw materials essential for industry and energy, and major waterways for transporting goods from the interior.

GPF Chairman Dr. Hyun Jin Moon emphasized the importance of shared valued values for national renewal in meetings with Paraguayan leaders. Dr. Moon meets here with Congressman Ariel Oviedo. More important than resources and economic factors, however, was the need to build social consensus around essential principles and values that can be the foundation for political reform and national transformation.

The Global Peace Foundation established its first national branch and began a systematic examination of the conditions and requirements to bring about genuine national transformation in Paraguay.

Above: The Itaipu Dam, among the world’s largest hydroelectric facilities and a joint project with Brazil. Below: A farm in rural Paraguay. Paraguay is among the world’s largest exporters of soy beans and has abundant raw materials and waterways to facilitate development. (Photos Courtesy of Rachel Codas)

“Peace and prosperity cannot be secured in this world without nations that exemplify integrity, good governance, and responsibility, together with respect for the dignity of human beings, fundamental human rights, and the prosperity and the fundamental needs of all its peoples,” the GPF Chairman told a business forum in Asunción on June 17, 2014.

A roadmap for transformation

In 2008 the Global Peace Foundation initiated work on several fronts, including the expansion of character education in primary and secondary schools; the establishment of a women’s division—later to become Global Peace Women—to advance the role and dignity of women and affirm the fundamental importance of the family in transmitting values; and economic development and relief projects in Alto Paraguay, the poorest state in Paraguay.

Most significant, GPF founded a research foundation, the Instituto de Desarrollo del Pensamiento Patria Sonada (IDPPS), with the express purpose of fashioning a roadmap for transforming Paraguay’s political institutions and establishing and upholding a social contract between the government, civil society institutions and the Paraguayan people.

“How do you make a new nation?” says Field. “You need founding fathers—a Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Hamilton—so we looked for those statesmen who are patriots, who are moral references, who could collaborate in the process of national transformation.”

Field first approached former Paraguay Supreme Court Justice Dr. José Altamirano, a jurist with a reputation for integrity. Recently retired, Altamirano called the meeting with Field “serendipity,” and he agreed to head the newly established Institute. Altamirano and Field then enlisted former ministers of education, agriculture, planning, and environment; a former president of the central bank; former chief of the armed forces, and other private and public sector leaders to collaborate on a blueprint for national development.

The founding charter defined the Institute’s members to be “the architects who establish the future society of Paraguay founded upon universally relevant ethical and moral principles and values” and to make “significant contributions to forming a great nation built upon healthy families, a thriving civil society characterized by good government, and an educational system with high levels of civic and social excellence.”

Asunción Declaration

Field says the idea of the Institute was the inspiration of the GPF chairman. “One of first things we did was organize an international conference, ‘Challenges, Threats and Opportunities for Development in Latin America,’ ” Field remembered. At the conclusion of the conference, participants ratified the Asunción Declaration, a milestone that affirmed the desire of Latin American leaders “to work–beyond religious, political, social, and ethnic differences for the unity of Latin America.”

The Declaration outlined the need to “revive the civic values and virtues that reflect the better spiritual, democratic, and plural traditions of humanity in this continent,” and “promote education in ethical principles and universal values that can empower children and young adults to become better human beings and good citizens.”

Then on May 6, 2011, the IDPPS organized a celebration of Paraguay’s bicentennial in Asunción at which 3 former presidents, 3 former vice presidents, the president of the Constitution Convention of 1992, 4 former presidents and current president of the National Congress, 6 former presidents of the Supreme Court, and other national leaders of modern Paraguay solemnly renewed their commitment to the democratic process.

This convening and a later 2011 assembly in Brazil’s National Congress in Brasilia affirmed the principles outlined in the Asunción Declaration and significantly provided a forum for former heads of state from throughout Latin America to put aside political differences to advance political reform, regional development, and broader hemispheric cooperation.

The Asunción Declaration affirmed the desire of Latin American leaders “to revive the civic values and virtues that reflect the better spiritual, democratic, and plural traditions of humanity.”

Left: Former Supreme Court Justice and President of the Paraguay Instituto de Desarrollo del Pensamiento Patria Sonada Dr. José Altimirano addresses a business forum in Asunción; right: former presidents and other leaders of modern Paraguay commit to work beyond religious, political, social, and ethnic differences for the unity of Latin America at an IDPPS-sponsored bi-centennial celebration.


The IDPPS also made an agreement with key national leaders to work on a roadmap for the development of the Chaco, including research and analysis of all projects for the last 20 years as well as weather, soil, and other topographical data.

From 2009 GPF had been active in the town of Puerto Casado, the largest community and capital of Alto Paraguay, providing basic assistance in health, education, and housing, later establishing sustainable projects including a fish farm, communal vegetable farm, and bakery. Residents of the town thus got jobs in rotation and a basic income, important following the closing of a tannery that sustained the town previously.

“If it weren’t for the projects initiated by GPF it would have been the end of Puerto Casado,” says Alto Paraguay Governor Marlene Ocampos, the country’s only female governor. “Thanks to those efforts the town can breathe again. GPF came to give food to the people who had nothing to eat. GPF went to schools and gave opportunity to study all the way to university. In terms of health care it did a lot of work, and even helped to bury the dead.”

IDPPS also assisted local officials in Puerto Casado to establish an efficient and accountable administration that directed the support received from the national government to the benefit of the community, rather than into the pockets of local politicians and businessmen.

Political shockwaves

Above: GPF provides emergency relief in the Chaco following the flooding in 2013. GPF has supported health, education, and housing, as well as sustainable projects that provide a livelihood for residents. Below: GPF supports character education as part of a comprehensive approach to national renewal.

In 2013 Ocampos, a political novice, launched an unlikely populist campaign for the governorship of Alto Paraguay, the largest, poorest, least-populated and arguably most corrupt of Paraguay’s departments, or states. A native of Puerto Casado, Ocampos has spent 20 years as a government health worker, visiting families, coordinating medical evacuations and assisting in disaster relief in a nearly inaccessible region with no paved roads and limited electrical power. Ocampos later coordinated GPF’s social projects in the state that sought to empower local people with sustainable livlihoods.

Her integrity, compassion and competency in delivering essential aid won the trust and affection of the largely indigenous Guarani people, who encouraged her to campaign for governor.

“It was never in my plan to run for governor,” Ocampos says. “People would say the government was full of corruption and had the hope that maybe I would run for governor. I was very afraid, but for me it was a just cause.”

Against the odds of a political machinery that operated by bribes, graft, intimidation and, in her case, threats against her life, Ocampos won the governorship in August 2013—a watershed event in Paraguayan politics. Although she had no experience of running a state administration, she drew upon the expertise of IDPPS, who helped her set up efficient and transparent administration.

Ocampos’ election created shockwaves throughout the country and set a precedent for a new paradigm of leadership that rejected the exploitation of public office for personal gain. Former Congressman and Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies Dr. Bernardino Cano Radil said that the reforms in Alto Paraguay had caused a “crack” in how things have worked in Paraguayan politics.

Field agrees. “Marlene Ocampos has done more in the first 10 months than others have done in 10 years, or ever. Working with IDPPS, the department set a goal of zero corruption in public administration. And I can say right now with confidence she has attained that goal. Her administration has set up a website that lists all salaries, expenditures, and bids for public projects.”

“If it weren’t for the projects initiated by GPF it would have been the end ofPuerto Casado,” —Alto Paraguay Governor Marlene Ocampos

An environment for investment

In June 2014, Korean government and business leaders met with their Paraguayan counterparts in Asunción at an IDPPS symposium, “Towards an Alliance between Paraguay and Korea,” which drew lessons from South Korea’s postwar economic transformation, including the many troubling social problems that have arisen in the wake of breakneck development.

Global Peace Women-Paraguay honored eight women leaders in areas of education, social service, health care, and faith-based social action at the sixth annual Awards Ceremony, “Women for the Sake of Others,” in Asunción on June 18, 2014. Right: Alto Paraguay Governor Marlene Ocampos (left) presents an award to Sister Maria de las Mercedes Calle Diaz for her service work in the Chaco.


Addressing the symposium, GPF Chairman Dr. Moon told the leaders that Paraguay can provide economic development and material prosperity to all its people “without compromising the spiritual and moral traditions of this nation and its roots in strong family values. A clear national vision, rooted in fundamental spiritual principles and shared moral values, is the essential starting point for national transformation. A solid moral foundation is the basis for building a just society, which is the prerequisite for successful long-term economic growth.”

Underscoring both the nascent partnership between the two nations and the emergence of Paraguay as a viable international investment opportunity, the national government and the Korean-based Il-Sung Construction Company held a ground-breaking ceremony in June 2014 to build an 80 kilometer highway, the first international contract awarded for a domestic infrastructure project of this sort.

In an interview with the Korean Economic Daily, Dr. Moon emphasized that Paraguay’s markets are no longer “dangerous” and now present a stable environment for development. But he warned that if Korean companies only look for short term gains, this could become “exploitative capital,” which is dangerous. “The way to lower risk,” he said, “is to think strategically from a long-term perspective about how to coexist with the local society.”

To accomplish this, the report concluded, “Dr. Moon has been working with Paraguay’s political leaders to end illiteracy, provide education on the values of democracy, and invest in other social welfare activities. At the same time, Dr. Moon has been working to mitigate conflict through activities such as bringing the children of influential leaders to explore regions of extreme poverty in northeast Paraguay.”

Toward national transformation

“How did GPF succeed?” says Field. “By social work—providing clothing medical supplies, blankets, dentists, doctors—through education of youth with support from the Ministry of Education, and by securing the support of Paraguay’s professional classes. But most importantly, by being clear about priorities. First principles and values—you could say the ‘spiritual foundation’ of a nation—bring stability, direction, and confidence that the future is not in the hands of a privileged elite but in the hands of free people. That is the path of Paraguay’s transformation, and that is what GPF is committed to advancing.”

“A clear national vision, rooted in fundamental spiritual principles and shared moral values, is the essential starting point for national transformation.” —GPF Chairman Dr. Hyun Jin Moon

Left: GPF Latin America Director Thomas Field invites participants at the 2013 Global Peace Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to the Convention in Asunción in November 2014. Right: Carlos G. Fernández Valdovinos of the Central Bank of Paraguay presents a positive assessment of Paraguay’s economic opportunities at a forum, “Towards an Alliance between Paraguay and Korea,” in Asunción on June 17, 2014.


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