ASUNCION – Hundreds of Paraguayan youths stood in line for hours on Friday outside a government office in Asuncion to apply for recognition as conscientious objectors amid a mobilization against Mandatory Military Service (SMO).
Applications have increased across the country following the announcement by the National Ombud’s Office that it will begin next month to establish a framework allowing objectors to do some kind of alternative service.
The heightened interest also comes after recent statements by conservative President Mario Abdo Benitez praising the SMO, which has become almost a dead letter over the years.
“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.
Guillermo Espinola, one of those standing in Friday’s blocks-long line, dismissed Abdo Benitez’s statement as “obvious propaganda for military service.”
“I hope to be useful to my country, as the military service propaganda says, but to do something that seems more moral and humanitarian to me: to help firefighters and the Red Cross,” the 18-year-old student tells EFE.
The main opposition Liberal Party presented this week a bill to end SMO.
On Thursday, police and troops stood guard around the presidential residence as dozens of young people gathered to protest SMO.
Early Friday, Abdo Benitez said that while the SMO Law remains in effect, his government’s approach to securing compliance will be based on incentives, not coercion.
Enacted in 1975 during the 1954-1989 dictator of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, the SMO Law makes military service for all males between the ages of 17 and 20.
The usual term of service is 30 to 90 days.