After a brief interlude of less than four years, the Colorado Party will return to lead Paraguay following the victory of Horacio Cartes. The millionaire businessman, whose holdings range from soft-drink manufacturing in the U.S. and Paraguay to significant banking, tobacco and import enterprises, was elected to a five-year term with a resounding 46 percent of the vote, as opposed to 37 percent for Efraín Alegre – the candidate of the Liberal Party and the current president, Federico Franco. All other candidates were far behind in the polls that were largely heralded by observers as free and fair.
A political newcomer, Cartes had never voted in any election before joining the Colorado Party just four years ago. He nodded to concerns voiced domestically and abroad that his party and Paraguay’s government has been tainted by corruption, Cartes has pledged reform. "I'll need help from all the Paraguayans to govern in the next five years," Cartes said on election night. There are challenges aplenty for Cartes, who recognized "Poverty, the lack of jobs for young people and international issues await us."
Cartes is no stranger to the U.S., having received a pilot’s license in Oklahoma in the 1970s. He subsequently interned at Cessna. He also owns a bottling plant in Florida.
Federico Franco, the current president, was ushered into power in June 2012 following the impeachment and removal of former president Fernando Lugo when Paraguay’s congress ruled that he was incompetent. The electoral alliance formed by the Liberal Party with Lugo’s leftist party made strange bedfellows and was the first administration not led by the Colorado Party in some 60 years. Both the Liberal Party, and the wing of the Colorado Party led by Cartes, represent moneyed interests. The Colorado Party, however, has long been associated with dictator Alfredo Stroessner who was in power for decades until being deposed in the mid-1980s.
Under Lugo, Paraguay made a distinct left turn in its orientation and aligned itself with left-leaning nationalist governments in the region, such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Relations with the U.S., which had long been good, faltered. When Lugo was replaced, Latin American governments reacted by freezing out Paraguay. Relations with Argentina have been especially nettlesome, given that Paraguay relies on land routes and riverine ports to get its products to the world market. Paraguay has accused Argentina of artificially hindering Paraguayan products when crossing the international border.
In the press, Cartes has been accused of involvement with narco-trafficking and other corrupt practices. And former president Lugo fingered Cartes as a principal in what the former Catholic bishop called a “coup.” The Economist magazine once noted that leaked cables from the State Department in Washington, dating from 2007 and 2010, reported claims that Cartes and his bank were responsible for “80 per cent of money-laundering in Paraguay” on behalf of drug traffickers.
Cartes is very likely to seek closer relations with the United States government and business interests. This is likely because the region’s governments will not warmly greet his election. Paraguay may continue to be isolated, especially by Argentina, even while Brazil may be more tractable to improved relations. It is also likely that he will continue President Franco’s policy of seeking assistance from Spain, for instance, to break up the ice with regional governments. So far, Franco has not been successful in getting positive feedback from the Obama administration.
The election was not without a little drama. As reported by Spero, there were two armed assaults on police stations and polling places on Election Day by leftist guerrillas in the province of Concepción, a heavily forested and significantly poor region of the country. Two police officers and an insurgent died. Police saddled up and sent reinforcements, while the insurgents melted away. The Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) has been linked to Colombian narcoterrorists known as FARC, which in turn have been said to receive assistance from the Chavista government of Venezuela.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.