This past Sunday's election followed after ten months of the liberal party Presidency of Federico Franco, who took the office in what was widely regarded as a political coup against the center-left President Fernando Lugo, bringing on sanctions from the Southern American Mercosur trade bloc. The left-leaning govenments of Brasil and Argentina had regarded Lugo as a welcome but ineffectual partner in the region.
Those two neighbors of Paraguay are relieved to have a straightforwardly legitimate government in place. Though Cartes himself has a reputation as a tobacco smuggler and money launderer.
This picture from the Partido Colorado website shows Cartes in the center, looking very much like a good-ole-boy politician from a Southern US state:
|Newly elected Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes (center)|
Gravonsky notes that a previous Partido Colorado President, Nicanor Duarte Frutos, was also a conservative but had good relations with the left-leaning governments of Venezuela, Brasil and Argentina. Both Argentina and Brasil get significant amounts of electric power from Paraguay, including a joint Paraguayan-Argentine facility, Yacyretá, which provides 15% of Argentina's electric power.
Aljazeera English reports on the election in Inside Story Americas - Paraguay: A victory for corruption? 04/23/2013:
(Update: Adrienne Pine makes an important point starting around 14:45 that the coup against President Lugo in 2012 looks to have been modeled on the one in Honduras in 2009, both of which the Obama Administration greeted quietly but favorably.)
An accompanying news article of the same name, Paraguay: A victory for corruption? 04/23/2013 reports:
Many on the left have argued Lugo's ousting amounted to a coup, after his reform programme was blocked by opposition from landowning elites and agribusiness interests.They quote Nikolas Kozloff saying, "This is ... a really horrible outcome; the Colorado Party supported Alfredo Stroesner dictatorship, which engaged in a persecution of non-violent protesters, supported Nazi war criminal, drug smuggling, persecution of indigenous peoples ... " And Kregg Hetherington presents this assessment:
Cartes won out over his main challenger, Efrain Alegre whose centre-right Liberal party took power following Lugo's removal.
Cartes is a tobacco magnate and one of the country's richest men, owning banks, a sports team and soybean farms.
In the past he has been arrested over allegations of currency fraud, investigated for alleged tax evasion and accused of drug trafficking by the US.
He owns more than 20 companies, which include a bank, agricultural estates, tobacco plantations and a soft drink bottler.
The Colorado Party runs itself very much the way it has in the sense of the late 19th century … although this is a very negative outcome … this is not at all surprising … the real surprise in Paraguay was in 2008 the election of someone who was not Colorado, but no one really expected even at that time, that that was likely to hold, so this is very much business as usual both for the party and for the electorate in general.Reuters reports on the new President in: Daniela Desantis and Hilary Burke, In Paraguay, a rich conservative must tackle poverty 04/21/2013 and by the same reporters. They present him as a "political novice who never voted before 2009." And he apparently plans to apply a neoliberal agenda to cut public services and attract private capital. Which is not likely to help much with this situation:
Cartes himself has acknowledged that, to be successful, he must also cater to Paraguay's poor masses. Poverty runs near 40 percent and per-capita gross domestic product was just $5,413 in 2011, the second-lowest in South America behind only Bolivia, according to International Monetary Fund data.
The country of 6.6 million has long been one of the region's most politically unstable, with a fragile economy dependent on agriculture. The last elected president, Fernando Lugo, was impeached last year following civil unrest.
This Spanish-language report from TV Pública argentina of 06/23/2012 relates a violent incident in that "civil unrest" in a conflict over land reform in Paraguay last year, which was used by the conservative Partido Colorodo opposition in their political coup unseated President Lugo via impeachment, Paraguay: Operación masacre:
That report illustrates the extreme maldistribution of wealth in Paraguay with figure that 2.6% of property owners control 85.5% of the usuable land, in a country heavily dependent on agriculture.
The Buenos Aires Herald reports (Horacio Cartes wins comfortably in Paraguay 04/22/2013):
Cartes has been mentioned in two US diplomatic cables published online by Wikileaks.Tags: horacio cartes, paraguay
The first refers to “Operation Heart of Stone,” a transnational investigation carried out by the US which focused on the disruption and dismantling of a drug-trafficking and money-laundering enterprise operating in the Tri Border Area (TBA) of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. The cable directly mentioned Horacio Cartes as a “designated Consolidated Priority Organizational Target.”
In a 2009 investigation, according to the cable, through the utilization of a US DEA undercover personnel, agents “infiltrated Cartes’ money-laundering enterprise, an organization believed to launder large quantities of United States currency generated through illegal means, including through the sale of narcotics, from the TBA to the United States”.
The second cable discusses an investigation into Dr Angel Gabriel González Cáceres, Paraguay’s director of SEPRELAD, the Secretariat for the Prevention of Money-Laundering.
This cable says that Gonzalez had a direct personal role as Central Bank president in white-washing (“blanquear”) funds for Horacio Cartes and his Banco Amambay, noting that 80 percent of money-laundering in Paraguay moves through that banking institution.” The cable also cited González’s strong ties to the Colorado Party.