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PARAGUAY
Paraguay: Divide between the old perk system and neoliberal technocracy
Gustavo Torres
9/13/2013
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President Cartes starts his term among internal political strife within his party and the mobilization of blue-collar workers, farmers and indigenous natives.

Since August 15, when he was appointed president of Paraguay for a five-year term, Horacio Cartes began to rule in a favorable environment to carry out his agenda, which proposes a New Course for the country with "opportunities for all."

He has majority support in the House of Representatives and a simple majority in the Senate —four votes away from an absolute majority, which would approve his proposals automatically. In addition, Cartes  has an agreement with the runner-up party, the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA), and other opposition groups, including the Democratic Progressive Party, Country Forward,  National Union of Ethical Citizens, Beloved Fatherland Party and the National Meeting Party. He has also received the pledge of the Guasú Front, led by ex-president (2008-2012) and current senator, Fernando Lugo to support social programs launched by his government.

Political analysts polled by Latinamerica Press agree that Cartes´s biggest challenge will be to avoid possible divides within his party due to his cabinet´s composition, which consists of  business-minded technocrats, purportedly efficient  and competitive, and no prominent figures from the ruling Colorado Party (also called National Republican Association), whose practice is partisan and perk-oriented.

Upon entering office, Cartes tried to distance himself from his predecessors of the Colorado Party to demonstrate that "the New Course," his campaign rhetoric, signifies the abandonment of old party practices that led the party to its removal from power in 2008 after six consecutive decades of absolute hegemony.

Following the decision of the new government to change the rules of the game, some legislators and party leaders more insistently began to demand government positions.

"Pushy and ungrateful, thanks to the Colorado Party he became president, he came to my party," complained Gustavo Centurión, Vice President of the Sectional Colorada of the capital district of San Lorenzo in a radio interview. Centurión was referring to Cartes joining the party only recently in 2009.

Under this pressure, Cartes began to grant some secondary secretary positions to Colorado-affiliated members.

"The appointments are signs of negotiations between President Horacio Cartes and the Colorado Party, and that the president lost his first round of negotiations. The disagreements between Cartes and his party do not arise only due to the issue of office designations, but also because of his attempt to ‘impose’ his projects onto his legislators and what’s more,  there’s disagreement among the vision of the [political] model they want to promote.
 
Through his cabinet of technocrats and the desire to optimize the State, he wants a neoliberal model, while the ARN insists on a perk-oriented system," Hugo Richer, Guasú Front senator told the press.

Upon inquiry from Latinamerica Press, Mercedes Canese, energy sovereignty activist and former deputy minister of Mines and Energy, said that the guest list of entrepreneurs and technocrats joining Cartes shows that "[He] wants to rule with business owners and advance the neoliberal model, downsize the State and privatize public enterprises."

Political analysts and union members also point out that the business-oriented and technocratic vision of a large portion of the cabinet that Cartes selected foreshadows government privatization and private sector concessions of public services.

In late August, employees and technicians of the Paraguayan electricity sector began protesting against the adoption of regulatory framework of  the electricity industry that  they think conceals a privatization maneuver.

"Cartes wants to rule as a businessman and that´s difficult in a country where the most of the people are farmers, informal workers and unemployed," Canese adds.
 
The challenges of the new office
Cartes´s "New Course" would mean the acceleration of the resource-based economy model, more agribusiness and more cattle for export. The family farming model is a problem for Cartes, and he will likely disregard it in public policy.

While groups of farmers and indigenous organizations fight for the preservation of native seeds, the government has followed the path of its predecessor, the interim ex-president Federico Franco (2012-2013), by appointing a representative of the guild of soy producers to the National Plant and Seeds Quality and Health Service (SENAEV). Engineer Regis Mereles, a member of the Union of Soy Producers (APS) and of the Union of Production Guilds (UGP) who stands for the complete deregulation of all types of transgenics, was appointed.

Last July, before Cartes took office, the Ministry of Industry and Trade granted the request of multinational corporation Monsanto to patent the transgenic corn seed MON 89034 and methods for its detection and use in Paraguay. In response, farmers and indigenous groups that produce native and Creole corn for consumption and income and  city-dwellers started a campaign seeking to reject the request of Monsanto  on the grounds that it violates Article 5 of 1630/00 Patent law, which stipulates that plants and animals are excluded from patent protection.

"It was wrong to grant Monsanto´s application. The Ministry of Industry and Trade should reject the corn patent requested by Monsanto, as this is not permitted in Paraguay. Corn is the primary food source of Paraguayan culture," reads the campaign slogan of the native and Creole maize producing organizations.

City protests
The Federation of Paraguayan Educators (FEP), and the Organization of Education Workers of Paraguay-National Syndicate (OTEP-SN), were the first to "welcome" the new government, laying siege to the capital on Aug. 14 and 15, at the start of Cartes’ term. More than 15,000 teachers demanded improvements to pensions through the Educational Retirement Act, and called for the provision of free and quality education.

Likewise, the physicians’ guilds affiliated with the National Federation of Health staged marches on the following days. They protested the lack of payment of wages, the threat of unfair layoffs  by the new Minister of Health Antonio Barrios, and attempts to cut the health budget.

Employees of publicly-owned companies in the electricity industry, members of the National Electricity Administration (ANDE), the National Syndicate Electricity (SITRANDE), and Paraguayan Communications Company (COPACO), which is affiliated with the National Union of Telecommunications (SINATEL), participated in a meeting organized by the main trade unions on Sept. 5. In a subsequent mobilization to the National Congress Plaza, they marched along farmer and indigenous organizations against potential privatization efforts. Addressing union leaders and indigenous representatives, Cartes promised to hold immediate dialogues in order to analyze each issue and seek solutions to the most serious problems facing the country.

"Workers who are associated within SITRANDE know very well the intentions of Cartes´s government, that is forcefully leading a neoliberal economic policy which involves the privatization of major public goods," said José María Benítez to the Latinamerica Press. Benitez is a delegate of the Acaray hydropower station, an ANDE-owned plant located in Hernandárias, Alto Parana.

The government has no clear plan of how it will create jobs", added Benitez. "If its intent is to privatize and then create jobs, that’s very contradictory because that would mean firing people and then presumably creating conditions for new jobs. That´s the situation we see with SITRANDE ...The strategy to follow is:  ongoing protest, try to win majority support, and defend one of the most precious commodities of the people, which is energy. "
–Latinamerica Press.


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Labor and farmer organizations press the government to stop privatization and patenting of GM and indigenous seeds, mainly corn. (Photo: Adrián Morínigo)
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