While commemorative celebrations of the 144th anniversary of President Francisco Solano Lopez, who led Paraguay during the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance of the 1860s, were taking place throughout the country, Mayor Sandra McLeod de Zacarías of Ciudad del Este announced in a press conference her plans to spend more than $570,000 (2,600 millon Guaranies) in public monies this year to hire public relations firms, television channels, national Newspapers and radio stations to provide publicity for her administration and burnish her image. Ciudad del Este is the commercial capital of the landlocked South American capital. Paraguayans and foreign tourists flock to the city to exchange currency and to buy discounted and black-market consumer goods.
The first contract for this campaign was signed on January 9 by Zacarías with “Frontera Producciones”, which is owned by Carlos Dario Bordon Bottino in the amount of $420,000. Ciudad del Este has also allocated another $130,000 to pay for the publication of ordinances, resolutions, as well as air-time on national radio stations to publicize Zacarías’ inauguration of public works and other accomplishments.
According to Diario Vanguardia, a Paraguayan daily, Ciudad del Este “continues to struggle with poverty and segregation: there is a complete negligence on the part of the local government regarding the provision of food and to improve the state of nutrition in more than 148 public schools, where only 4 schools are provided with milk and food supplies for children and students. Unwillingness to build newer public schools, the lack of public works and poor infrastructure continue to be a major challenge for the city’s inhabitants.”
Half of the population of Ciudad del Este is living below the poverty line, while by comparison about one-third of all Paraguayans live below the poverty line. That Zacarías is spending more than a half million dollars on publicity, was questioned by some local observers, since there are so many other needs to fill in the city. Re-elected in November 2010, Zacarías has notably made little investment in new public works, infrastructure, public schools, and poverty abatement. Her husband, Javier Zacarías Irún was her predecessor in office, making the mayoral office a family business for more than 13 years. His brother, Justo Zacarías Irún, is the current governor of Alto Paraná province, of which Ciudad del Este is the capital.
According to Diario Vanguardia, over “$120,000 (G. 518 millon) will be spent for broadcasting of press releases from the radio stations as well as $56,000 (G. 264 millones) will be paid to local television channels to broadcast every day the ‘success and achievements’ of Mayor Sandra McLeod de Zacarias.” In a March 1 report by Ultima Hora, another Paraguayan daily, a local town councilor fears that the money is being used by Zacarías to advance her re-election bid.
For Esteban Wiens, a possible mayoral candidate, “this amount of money being spent on public relations is totally unnecessary, while taking into account the high level of poverty that is assailing this city. There are many immediate needs that require funding from the Municipality instead of using public money to promote such weak leadership on the part of Mayor McLeod de Zacarías.”
According to the website for the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay, the landlocked South American republic is of major concern because of drug trafficking and money laundering. Also, a 2003 report by the Congressional Research Service indicated that foreign terrorist groups, such as Egypt’s Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Islamic
Group) and Al-Jihad (Islamic Jihad), al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizballah, and al-Muqawamah (the Resistance; also spelled al-Moqawama), which is a pro-Iran wing of the Lebanon-based Hizballah have operations in the so-called Tri-Border Area where the frontier regions of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. Ciudad del Este borders on Brazil along the Parana River, near the spectacular Iguazu waterfalls. The official embassy website says, "Paraguay is a major drug transit country and money laundering center. A multi-billion dollar contraband trade, fed in part by endemic, institutional corruption, occurs in the border region shared with Argentina and Brazil (the Tri-Border Area) and facilitates much of the money laundering in Paraguay. While the Government of Paraguay (GOP) suspects proceeds from narcotics trafficking are often laundered in the country, it is difficult to determine what percentage of the total amount of laundered funds is generated from narcotics sales or is controlled by drug trafficking organizations, organized crime, or terrorist groups operating locally."