Protesters and Police Conflict in Paraguay Amid Anger Over Pandemic Response

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Protesters clashed with police late Friday in the Paraguayan capital, Asunción, as anger over the government’s management of the coronavirus crisis surfaced, forcing the country’s top health official to resign.

Security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at hundreds of protesters gathered around the convention building, while protesters broke down security barriers, burned roadblocks and threw stones at the police.

The protests erupted amid growing outrage as coronavirus infections hit record levels and hospitals across Paraguay were on the verge of collapse.

“It’s a shame that young people have taken this too far. They are people who only want to destroy, ”said Interior Minister Arnaldo Giuzzio to the television channel Telefuturo. “This violence makes no sense.”

Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni resigned on the previous Friday, a day after lawmakers called for his overthrow.

Mr Mazzoleni is the youngest of several leading health officials across Latin America to have been forced out of work in recent weeks due to mounting anger over how to deal with the pandemic and the slow roll-out of vaccinations.

To replace him, President Mario Abdo Benítez appointed Dr. Julio Borba as Deputy Minister. Mr Borba told reporters he would start tracking down medicines and supplies immediately.

According to a Reuters tally, Paraguay has a record daily number of cases, with 115 infections per 100,000 people reported in the past seven days. According to Reuters data, the country has vaccinated less than 0.1 percent of its population.

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