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article imageParaguay: wracked by trafficking, corruption

By AFP     Apr 20, 2018 in World

Paraguay, which holds a presidential election on Sunday, is a small landlocked nation in Latin America where corruption and drug trafficking are rampant.

Here are a few key facts about this nation of nearly seven million people.

- Contraband and corruption -

Wedged between Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, this overwhelmingly Catholic country has a porous border, making it a hub for drugs traffickers.

The narcotics, mainly cannabis and cocaine, move from Paraguay into Brazil and from there are shipped to Europe.

Paraguay's thriving drugs trade has sparked a wave of mafia turf battles and killings.

Brazil's most wanted drugs kingpin was arrested in late 2017 in Paraguay, as was Argentina's in 2016.

Despite an official campaign against endemic corruption, Paraguay remains 135th out of 180 countries on the 2017 corruption index of Transparency International.

It has two official languages: Spanish and Guarani -- an indigenous language spoken by 80 percent of the population.

- Quasi one-party rule -

Paraguay has been ruled almost interrupted since 1947 by the rightwing Colorado party of outgoing president Horacio Cartes.

The party has a reputation for corruption and Paraguay remains under the shadow of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ran the country from 1954 to 1989.

Under Stroessner's iron grip there were between 1,000 and 3,000 politically-motivated killings and disappearances, according to human rights groups.

The only time the country had a president who did not come from the Colorado party was in 2008-2012 when former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo ruled.

He was removed after an impeachment trial, which was swiftly denounced as a coup by Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela.

In 2013, Cartes -- one of Paraguay's richest men -- brought the Colorado party back to power.

Four years later, there was a series of deadly riots as Cartes sought to change the constitution to allow him to run again. He backtracked in the wake of the violence.

Under the 1992 constitution, the president is elected for a five-year term in single-round elections, with no opportunity for re-election.

The party's candidate in Sunday's presidential election is Mario Abdo Benitez, the son of Stroessner's private secretary.

- Electricity, soy and stevia -

Although Paraguay has seen an average growth of 4% over the past decade  it remains one of Latin Ame...
Although Paraguay has seen an average growth of 4% over the past decade, it remains one of Latin America's poorest countries, with 26.4 percent of people living in poverty
Norberto DUARTE, AFP

Paraguay is a major exporter of soy, beef and hydroelectric power, representing 70 percent of its exports in 2016 according to the World Bank.

It has huge dams on the Parana river, including Itaipu, the second biggest hydroelectric dam in the world in terms of production.

Stevia, a zero-calorie sweetener derived from the herb of the same name, has taken the global marketplace by storm.

One of Latin America's poorest countries, Paraguay has seen an average growth of four percent over the past decade.

Between 2009 and 2014, the number of people living on less than $4 per day dropped from 32.5 percent to 18.8 percent, World Bank figures show.

But in 2017, more than a quarter of the population -- 26.4 percent -- was still living in poverty, official figures showed.

Despite efforts to improve tax collection, its fiscal income remains very weak, and the quality of infrastructure and public services is consequently poor.

The country has nevertheless improved access to health care and basic education.

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