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PARAGUAY
Colorado Party back in power
Gustavo Torres
5/2/2013
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Tobacco tycoon and alleged drug trafficker elected as president.

“You cannot call the elections totally clean and transparent, because they have been deeply distorted by the power of money,” claims Hugo Richer in a press release. The senator was elected by the left-wing alliance Guasú Front in the general elections of Apr. 21 that saw the return of the right-wing Colorado Party to power after five years.

Richer explains that fraud occurred “through vote buying and scandalous use of funds by the parties. These factors created great inequality in electoral competition, thus we cannot speak of fair and transparent elections. The Guasú Front is committed to promoting significant changes in the electoral law in Parliament.”

The Apr. 21 general elections — preceded by the parliamentary coup of June 22, 2012, which removed President Fernando Lugo (2008–2012) from power — were hatched in record time in a two-party system by the conservative Colorado and Authentic Radical Liberal (PLRA) parties, known as the “eternal rivals,” as well as their allies Beloved Fatherland Party (PPQ) and the National Union of Ethical Citizens (UNACE).

The plotting between the PLRA and the Colorado Party — also known as National Republican Association (ANR) — allowed Vice President Federico Franco, of the PLRA, to live his dream of being president for 14 months. It also enabled the Colorado Party to finally take back power — that had been in their hands for over six decades until their electoral defeat in 2008 — and for the tobacco entrepreneur Horacio Cartes to become the 49th president of Paraguay, with 45.8 percent of the vote.

The return to power of the Colorado Party, after five years of absence, proved to all that their party structure is intact. The party has a majority in Senate (19 out of 45 senators) and absolute majority in the Lower House (44 out of 80), in addition to obtaining the governorships in 12 of the 17 departments. The PLRA, which participated through the Paraguay Alegre Alliance — stays with 13 senators and 28 deputies. The left — led by the Guasú Front — counts 11 senators, including former President Lugo, and will form the third force in Parliament.

A break in two-party system?
Latinamerica Press spoke to Gustavo Codas — journalist, economist, international analyst and former director of the Itaipú Binacional hydroelectric dam during the Lugo era — who predicts that “the PLRA will face a serious crisis. Its representation [in parliament] fell from 14 to 12 seats. It lost some regional strongholds. They lost their values with the coup, with their illegitimate and corrupt governance, with the electoral result, it is not ruled out that the two-party system will be destroyed by the decline of PLRA.”

For Carlos Amarilla — the former governor of the Central department and senator elected by the PLRA — the leaders themselves have caused harm to the party.

“We need to abandon the matrix of pork-barrel politics and sinecure,” said Amarillo about the leadership of his party. Meanwhile, Domingo Laíno — historic leader and founder of the PLRA — admitted that “the defeat of the Paraguay Alegre Alliance in the elections was due to the mistakes made by the party” and that “the corrupt leadership must leave the PLRA.”

“They decided to enter through the window for ten months in office and gave up going through the main door for five years, that [is what] happened,” said Laíno to Ñandutí radio. For his part, the re-elected senator Luis Alberto Wagner — the only liberal legislator who voted against the removal of Lugo — said that “the electoral defeat plunged the PLRA into a serious crisis and a party convention should be called to set new direction for the coming years and renew the leadership.”

The rise of an “apolitical”
Despite the numerous accusations against him for money laundering, drug trafficking and smuggling, Cartes, 56, dodged all the bad press and criticism from his opponents, who played against his political aspirations right from the start. Led by the influential senator Juan Carlos Galaverna, he joined the Colorado Party in 2009 and a year later founded the Colorado Honor Movement (HC for Honor Colorado), initials that also stand for his name. He managed to reform the party’s membership statute — which required 10 years of affiliation before it was changed to just a year — which allowed him to run in the party elections and become their presidential candidate.

Before getting involved in politics, Cartes was a leader and shareholder of the Libertad soccer club, besides having equity in some 20 companies related to the financial sector, tobacco and cattle, all of which contributed to creating an image of Cartes as good “entrepreneur and administrator.” However, he never managed to obscure certain allegations about his ties to drug trafficking and money laundering, which is why the origins of his fortune remain suspicious.

In the 1980s, he was accused by the Paraguayan justice system of defrauding the state and was imprisoned for 60 days. In March 2000, officials of the Directorate of Narcotics seized over 340 kilograms (750 pounds) of marijuana and 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of cocaine on an aircraft that had landed on his ranch La Esperanza.
A diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires from Jan. 5, 2010, leaked by WikiLeaks, says he was investigated in 2009 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a drug trafficker and owner of a big money laundering scheme on the Triple Frontier, a tri-border area shared by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
At first glance it appears that Cartes’ government will be following the same path as Franco’s in regard to the defense of the interests of the Paraguayan oligarchy, favoring agribusiness and strengthening its prominence in the business world, at the cost of the needs of vast sectors of the population, social programs and economic inclusion initiatives.
Political analyst Víctor Barone, consulted by Latinamerica Press, asserts that “the internal dispute of economic power will play itself out within the ANR,” and will consist of “mafia-style disputes over different segments of traffic business; perhaps that is where this hegemony, legitimized in these elections, will wear itself out.”

For Barone, “the ideological weight of so many years of anticommunism remains dominant, the common logic of the dominant economic group is totally reactionary and anti-grassroots, even the most basic rights are challenged during their total hegemony.”

“The left — led by Guasú Front — and their senators, will have the huge responsibility of curbing conservative and reactionary projects” of Cartes’ government.

Meanwhile, journalist and political analyst Adolfo Giménez tells Latinamerica Press that “the government of Cartes is not going to be a democratic example, it will not encourage important social policies in order to alleviate the serious problems that affect most of the population, it could even lead to an upsurge in violence towards popular demands in order to protect powerful groups. In addition, the Colorado Party machinery is dominated by thieves of all kinds: opportunists, looters, smugglers, embezzlers of public goods, whose performance we will see in the coming months and which will become one of the main problems of the new government.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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Photo caption: Former president Fernando Lugo was elected as senator by the left-wing Guasú Front. (Photo: Olga Cáceres)
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