Paraguay has had six constitutions since gaining independence. The 1813 Reglamiento de gobierno, instituted by Dr. José Gaspar de Francia and approved by a general congress, provided for a two-man consular form of government. (The reglamiento notwithstanding, Francia became the sole executive in 1814 and perpetual dictator two years later.)
The Constitution of 1844, also designed by the chief executive and approved by a general congress, established a new state structure for Paraguay after Francia's death. It provided for a presidential republican system with a separate executive, legislature, and judiciary (though in practice the last two branches of government were subservient to the first).
The 1870 Constitution, approved at the time of the allied occupation of Paraguay, drew heavily from Argentine precedents. It established a bicameral legislature and a single four-year presidential term, all set within a centralized, rather than federal, structure. Although this constitution endured for seventy years, it was repeatedly violated in spirit and practice by Colorado and Liberal governments alike.
The Constitution of 1940 was promulgated during the administration of José Félix Estigarribia. Although bearing some similarity to the 1870 document, it also boasted some authoritarian features, including a powerful, nonelected council of state and a wide expansion of executive authority in all areas. It provided for a weak unicameral legislature. The 1940 Constitution facilitated a move toward dictatorship in Paraguay, first under Higínio Morínigo (1940–1946) and then under Alfredo Stroessner (1954–1989).
The 1967 Constitution was designed to permit General Stroessner to rule as president for two more five-year terms. (Ten years later the general pushed through an amendment that allowed him to serve indefinitely.) This constitution also restored a bicameral character to the legislature but retained the council of state.
The Constitution of 1992, written after the fall of Stroessner, was the first essentially democratic constitution for Paraguay. A massive document (291 articles and 20 artículos transitorias), it weakened the executive power vis-á-vis the other branches of government; the Council of State was abolished and the choice of Supreme Court justices was left in the hands of the bicameral legislature. Decentralization of authority was also a key feature of the Constitution, with many responsibilities turned over to regions and departmental governors. The 1992 document was highly controversial.
Conrado Pappalardo Zaldívar, Paraguay: Itinerario constitucional (1991), and R. Andrew Nickson, Historical Dictionary of Paraguay (1993), pp. 159-162.
Filártiga Cantero, Fernando Jesús. Paraguay: Quebradiza institucionalidad. Asunción, Paragua: F.J. Filártiga Cantero, 2004.
Lambert, Peter, and R. Andrew Nickson. The Transition to Democracy in Paraguay. Houndmills, Hampshire [England]: Macmillan Press, 1997.
Thomas L. Whigham