They Tell Me It Was Different Then

Paraguayans don’t usually talk about the dictatorship in Paraguay that ended in 1989. It’s a taboo subject. There are many reasons why one can’t talk about it, but one important reason is that Paraguayans are fiercely proud of their country and will not criticize themselves in an extreme way. Of course Paraguayans now, like all citizens of democracies, grumble about their new government, corruption among politicians, and what the government is not doing.

Despite the general silence, there is one way señoras talk about the dictatorship; it is usually in a positive light. It relates to security. Señoras are fearful of crime and degeneration of youth in their country—especially the older señoras. They think that women can not and should not walk around alone after dark. Regardless of whether it is late or not. Now, in some parts of Paraguay, like certain barrios in Asuncion, no one should walk around alone late at night. But, if one compares Paraguay to just about any other country in South America, Paraguay is pretty safe. I’m not suggesting that one should throw caution to the wind, but in the quiet towns of Paraguay usually señoras’ fear exaggerates the danger of nighttime. Darkness falls early in the winter months. It’s hard to be home by 5 pm even in  tranquil rural Paraguay.

When señoras talk to me about their concerns for security and the development of youth sometimes they reference the dictatorship. They tell me that things were different then. They tell me there was hardly any crime. They tell me that it was safer and the government was in control. I imagine they are right, but I am not well informed and I wasn’t here to know. Among the few pre-1989 Paraguayan history facts I know is that there was a curfew. I also read that people died if they criticized the government during that time. I will leave judgement of the government before Paraguayan democracy to history experts. However, every time a señora tells me “It was different then” in a hushed voice that is not critical or supportive my mind stirs with questions. Some questions can not be asked. And sometimes after I’ve narrowly avoided being walked home unnecessarily just after the sun sets, I wonder what it was like in Paraguay “then.”