Reforestation proposed as alternative to military service in Paraguay

The president of the Permanent Commission of the National Congress of Paraguay and deputy of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, Antonio Buzarquis, appears in the office of the president of the Lower House to present the draft bill of the Compulsory Civil Service, in Asunción, Paraguay. Jan. 16, 2019. EPA-EFE/Carlos Villar Ortiga

Asuncion, Jan 16 (epa-efe).- Paraguay’s main opposition Liberal Party announced Wednesday a bill to offer conscription-age men the chance to do reforestation as an alternative to military service.

Liberal lawmaker Antonio Buzarquis told reporters that the new Obligatory Civil Service would also be a «job training» tool.

The draft legislation explains that conscientious objectors must present an official declaration and, once approved, they will be «obliged to provide Compulsory Civil Service for the benefit of the public.»

The bill also states that environmental projects such as reforestation will be promoted.

«I would love to see an army of 30,000 youths reforesting the Republic of Paraguay,» Buzarquis said, pointing to the damage caused by deforestation in the Chaco region.

Among the recognized institutions included in the bill are schools, hospitals, social-welfare agencies and emergency services, as well as NGOs and non-profit entities.

Young objectors will have a period of 20 days after having been called to service by the armed forces to present their declarations before the National Ombud’s Office.

After completing their community service, young Paraguayans will receive a certificate of compliance, which will exempt them from «paying any military fee» – currently stipulated under the Mandatory Military Service Law.

Enacted in 1975 during the 1954-1989 dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, the law requires all males between the ages of 17 and 20 to do military service for a period usually ranging from 30 to 90 days.

In 2010, Paraguay adopted legislation establishing the right of conscientious objectors to refuse military service on religious or ethical grounds.

For Buzarquis, the proposal is designed to alleviate Paraguay’s skilled labor deficit and to ease high youth unemployment.

Late last month, hundreds of youths stood in line for hours outside a government office in Asuncion to apply for recognition as conscientious objectors amid a mobilization against conscription.

The heightened interest came after statements by conservative President Mario Abdo Benitez praising mandatory military service.

«I have signed the authorization for my son Santiago to do Mandatory Military Service. I’m proud that he can serve his country with patriotism. I’m convinced it will be an experience that will serve him for the rest of his life,» the president wrote on Twitter.