Paraguay proposes new alternative service programBy James C. Juhnke For Mennonite Weekly Review
Mennonites in Paraguay are facing changes in the national system of military conscription and alternative service. At stake is the foundation of Mennonite relationships with the government.
On June 10 the Mennonite Seminary in Asuncion, CEMTA, hosted a meeting to discuss the prospective changes. Some 55 Mennonite leaders attended.
Sen. Hugo Estigarribia, a member of the national legislature, spoke at the meeting. He plans to introduce reforms at the next legislative session.
Before coming to Paraguay, Mennonites asked for special privileges. In 1921 the Paraguayan government passed Law 514, guaranteeing exemption from military service for Mennonite immigrants. A new constitution in 1992 offered exemption to everyone who objects to military service on grounds of conscience.
Some Mennonite leaders say the 1992 constitution, and a more recent law reaffirming the offer of alternative service for all, have altered the meaning of the 1921 charter of privileges.
In the view of Jakob Warkentin, the disappearance of special privileges is long overdue.
“Privileges lead to dependence upon the government,” Warkentin has written. “They narrow freedom of political dealings.”
He believes it is better for Mennonites to have the same status before the law as other people.
Warkentin, a teacher and scholar from Neuland Colony in the Chaco, has long urged Mennonites to develop a pilot project for alternative service before the government has its reforms in place.
The current situation is ambiguous. A law passed in June 2010 and endorsed by President Fernando Lugo in March called for a commission to administer the alternative service program. But the commission still does not exist, and the law is not enforced.
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