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article imageOp-Ed: Paraguay poised to elect conservative president

By Ken Hanly     Apr 21, 2013 in Politics
Asunci - Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party appears headed for victory in presidential elections in Paraguay. The Colorado Party was headed by the former strongman of Paraguay Alfredo Stroessner for 35 years.
Stroessner was infamous for his brutal governing methods but liked by many of the wealthy elite who in effect run Paraguay. Stroessner was supported by the US: "An arch anti-communist, Stroessner had the backing of the United States. His supporters packed the legislature and ran the courts, and he ruthlessly suppressed all political opposition. He kept his country in what he called a constant "state of siege" that overruled his democratic constitution, enforced a cult of personality, and used torture against political opposition. Membership in his Colorado Party was a prerequisite for job promotion, free medical care and other services. The constitution had to be modified in 1967 and 1977 to legitimize his six consecutive elections to the presidency. In 1988, he won an unprecedented eighth term on a majority, according to official figures, of between 90 and 98 percent of the registered vote."
Stroessner was eventually ousted in a military coup and lived in exile in Brazil for 17 years where he died in his nineties. He tried to return back to Paraguay to die but the government would not allow him back in. While the Colorado Party may have changed its appearance since Stroessner, it still represents the small wealthy elite that have always dominated Paraguay.
In 2008 leftist bishop, Fernando Lugo, was elected but he was impeached last year in what neighbouring countries described as an "institutional coup". The regional trading bloc Mercosur suspended Paraguay's membership as the result of this action. However this election will replace Federico Franco who served out the remainder of Lugo's term. The vote this Sunday (April 21) will probably serve to restore Paraguay's membership in Mercosur and normalise relations with other countries.
The Colorado Party had held power for 61 years before being defeated by Lugo. This time polls show that the party will win handily over the Franco's Liberal Party of Sen. Alegre. Other candidates trail far behind including the leftist Guasu Front led by Lugo, who is seeking to return as a senator. Only a plurality of votes is needed to win the presidency so there will be no runoff.
Whoever is elected will need to deal with the great gulf between rich and poor in the country of 6.2 million people. UN statistics show more than half of the population lives in poverty. The leading candidates claim to try to change that. At least the problem is high on the agenda whereas in the US the mantra is about the decline of the middle class. Cartes solution is sure to please global capital as key to his anti-poverty program is attracting foreign investment for job creation. Cartes does not seem to fear backlash from liberals as he compared gays to monkeys. He also opposes gay marriage because of his Roman Catholic faith. He joked that if his son ever suggested he wanted to marry another man, he would shoot himself in his private parts.
Andrew Nickson, who directed an EU project on state reform in Paraguay said:“Paraguay has a deeply entrenched, conservative elite.You have a rapidly growing economy and the trickle- down effect of that is minimal.”
Paraguay is the second poorest country in South America, Bolivia being the poorest. Even so, the economy will expand by 11% this year due to a very good harvest especially of soybeans. All of the candidates favor a cap on deficit spending and promotion of economic stability. Cartes governs a business empire that includes tobacco, banking, cattle rearing, and juice industries. If elected, Cartes will take power on August 15.
UPDATE: The Colorado Party and Cartes have been declared winners according to Al Jazeera: : "Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party has been declared the winner of Paraguay's presidential elections by the South American country's electoral board. Efrain Alegre, 50, a lawyer and career politician in the ruling Liberal Party, conceded defeat after several exit polls predicted a big win for his rival, 56-year-old Cartes, a millionaire businessman, in Sunday's election."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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