Category Archives: Paraguay
Presidential, congressional and gubernatorial elections were held in Paraguay on April 21, 2013. The President of Paraguay is elected for a non-renewable five-year term by direct universal suffrage. Like almost all countries in Latin America, Paraguay is a presidential republic. The Congress is composed of two chambers, the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and the Chamber of Senators (Cámara de Senadores). The Chamber of Deputies is made up of 80 members elected by proportional representation in each of Paraguay’s 18 departments. The Senate is made up of 45 senators elected by proportional representation in a single national constituency.
Background: Paraguay’s Unique History
Paraguay has long been one of the poorest, least developed and most isolated countries in Latin America. Since the country gained independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay has not been blessed in terms of leadership; its history has been a succession of civilian or military autocrats, corrupt short-lived nonentities, coups, unstable regimes and idiosyncratic dictators. With only a handful of exceptions, none of these leaders showed the faintest interest in major social reforms and allowed the inegalitarian status quo to endure.
Between 1813 and 1840, Paraguay was ruled by José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, the first in a series of peculiar dictators which have marked the country’s history. An ardent nationalist and shrewd politician, Francia sought to safeguard the young nation’s independence against its powerful Brazilian and Argentine neighbours. When other South American nations turned to the outside world for trade and economic development, Paraguay looked inwards – promoting economic self-sufficiency and shielding the country from foreign influence by nearly sealing off the country from foreign powers (nobody was allowed to leave the country, and import/export were controlled to a bare minimum). Francia was also a utopian revolutionary, who might have been described as a socialist or communist had those terms existed in the early nineteenth century. Francia loathed the Catholic Church and the white European (peninsulares) landowning elite. His extremely protectionist policies ruined exporters of tobacco and yerba maté, who tended to be white Spanish hacendados. He also banned marriages between Europeans, a policy which likely contributed to Paraguay’s current ethnic makeup: over 70% of the population is mestizo (mixed race) and a plurality of the population speaks Guaraní, an indigenous language, rather than Spanish as their first language. Francia also seized land from the Church and the landowning elites, so that the state owned most of the land in the country and distributed homesteads to individual families. On the other hand, Francia ruled as ruthless supreme dictator who had control over every aspect of social and political life in the country. Francia’s opponents were arbitrarily detained, persecuted, interned, tortured or murdered. Free speech and dissent was forbidden.
After Francia’s death in 1840, Carlos Antonio López eventually became Paraguay’s new dictator, ruling between 1841 and his death in 1862. Francia, despite being the stereotypical Orwellian Big Brother autocrat, was selfless and ruled honestly. Antonio López, however, was a despot who wanted to found a dynasty and ran Paraguay as his own personal fiefdom – he became one of the largest and wealthiest landowners in the country. Antonio López distrusted foreigners as well, but he loosened Francia’s nationalistic restrictions. To build up the country’s infrastructure including railroads and telegraphs, he invited European engineers, physicians and investors. At the same time, he was not as shrewd a diplomat as Francia. He went to war with Argentina’s Juan Manuel Rosas and allowed controversies and disputes with Brazil and Argentina to smolder. After his death, he was succeeded by his son Francisco Solano López, one of the most disastrous rulers in world history.
Francisco Solano López was a bloodthirsty paranoid tyrant, who silenced opposition and brutishly cracked down on anybody he suspected of opposing him (including his mother and siblings). Having been sent to Europe by his father to buy weapons, he returned with megalomaniac ambitions and with an Irish lover (Elisa Alicia Lynch). He built up the country’s military before provoking a war with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (all at once) in 1864-1865. Even his large military was no match for the combined strength of Brazil and Argentina, and the conflict proved disastrous for Paraguay. Nevertheless, because the conflict became a war of attrition fought on Paraguayan territory, the war lasted until 1869-1870. Solano López turned cuckoo by the end of the war, and the conflict ended only when Solano López himself was killed in the jungle in 1870 (the capital, Asunción, fell in early 1869). The conflict was a savage butchery, proportionally one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history – over half of Paraguay’s population died in the conflict, either directly through the fighting or because of disease (including cholera). Despite his disastrous leadership and the high toll of the war on the country, Solano López is nowadays revered as a national hero in Paraguay – a man who fought, to the last man (literally), for the country’s independence.
Paraguayan politics after the war and Brazilian occupation were marked by a bitter partisan divide between the conservative Colorados and the Liberals. There were few ideological differences between both, and both parties became unstable motleys of factions. The Colorados, like fellow Conservative parties in Latin America, tended to be protectionist, autocratic and clerical. The Liberals tended to support free trade, classical liberalism and some Liberals sincerely supported democracy. In Paraguay, the Colorados tended to be more closely tied to the old Solano López regime and many of its leaders had served under his government; while most Liberals had been opponents of the Lopizta regime. Any sincere desires for democracy were quickly thrown out the door, politics degenerated into factionalism, cronyism and intrigue.
The Colorados ruled between 1878 and 1904, under a succession of ineffective Presidents who often tended to be puppets for feuding factional bosses (oftentimes military officers) in the Colorado Party. Desperate for cash, the Colorados dismantled Francia’s vast state holdings and sold much of this land to foreigners or fellow Colorado politicians in large lots. Peasants were forced to vacate the land, and most of the country’s land were owned by a small elite of a hundred or so landowners. In 1904, the Liberals – heading a ragtag bunch of Colorado dissidents, idealistic reformers and opportunistic Liberals – seized power in a coup (backed by Argentina) in 1904.
The Liberals ruled between 1904 and 1936, an era marked by major political instability as successive Liberal Presidents were victims of factional conflicts with other Liberals or Colorados. Under Liberal rule, social conditions – already marginal – deteriorated further as a handful of landowners exercised feudal control over the countryside. A nationalist conflict with neighbouring Bolivia (which, like Paraguay, had already lost a war to a stronger regional power – Chile) allowed lingering social tensions to smolder in the 1930s. Bolivia, seeking an access to the Paraguay River to gain a river port, moved to invade the Gran Chaco – a sparsely populated arid desert region under nominal Paraguayan sovereignty. In 1928, the two countries came close to war but the Liberal government in Asunción backed off – much to the anger of young nationalists, eager for political regeneration and social reform.
War with Bolivia finally broke out in 1932, and the Paraguayans pushed the numerically superior Bolivians to the verge of surrender by 1933, but the Liberal President agreed to a truce which allowed the Bolivians to regroup and prolong the war until July 1935, at which point Paraguay won the war. Although Paraguay won the war, the civilian government’s utter incompetence and ineptitude at managing the conflict inflamed public opinion in the country and led to a military coup in February 1936. The revolutionaries promised social and political changes, and brought a popular nationalist and reformist officer, Rafael Franco, to power. Like similar revolutionary movements in the continent during this time period, the febrerista revolutionaries had some genuine interest in social justice, land reform or workers’ rights; but they generally lacked a clear direction and land reform was never ambitious (read: threatening to landowners and foreign interests). Furthermore, Rafael Franco soon demonstrated authoritarian tendencies which alarmed some of his younger and more idealist supporters. Franco and the febrerista regime proved short lived – the military overthrew him in August 1937. Franco’s coalition was very diverse, lacked a solid base of support and he had alienated most of his erstwhile supporters while pleasing nobody.
The Liberals were restored to power, but nationalist febrerista sentiments were not dead for that matter. In 1939, the Liberals picked General José Estigarribia, the hero of the Chaco war, as the next President. Estigarribia began a land reform project, reopened the university, balanced the budget, financed the public debt, implemented monetary reforms, drew up plans for public works projects and adopted a new constitution (in 1940) which expanded the powers of the executive. Estigarribia, however, died in airplane crash in September 1940 and he was succeeded by Higinio Moríñigo, a more conservative military officer. Moríñigo was the choice of the Liberal old guard which never liked Estigarribia, but Moríñigo – a cunning leader – outmaneuvered the eternally incompetent civilian politicians and established his own authoritarian regime, which unofficially sided with Germany during World War II.
Civil war erupted in 1947, between Moríñigo’s Colorado supporters and an unlikely coalition of Febreristas, Liberals and communists led by Franco. Moríñigo came out victorious, but only because of the Colorados and their military supporters. The Colorados, led by a hardliner, finally returned to power themselves in 1948 after “elections” and a coup to preemptively remove Moríñigo lest he had something up his sleeve. The Colorados had successfully used Moríñigo by allying to his regime for a while before dumping him and taking power for themselves, with the consent of the military.
The new Colorado President was overthrown in a coup led by the rival faction in the Colorado Party, and power shifted to the more ‘democratic’ and moderate faction. In the meantime, extreme unrest in the past two decades had taken their toll: the economy was in shambles and corruption remained widespread. The incumbent civilian President had alienated important factions of the Colorados and the military, resulting in yet another military coup in 1954. The coup was led and organized by General Alfredo Stroessner, who had been a leading Colorado commander in the 1947 civil war. The Colorados quickly endorsed Stroessner for the presidency, though they saw him as an interim placeholder until somebody closer to their tastes propped up. Yet, Stroessner would govern the country until 1989.
Stroessner was an astute leader in his own right, who was able to play the different factions of his party off against one another and maintain the support of the military. Yet, repression was a key factor in Stroessner’s longevity. He declared a state of siege which lasted, with one short exception, until 1970 in the countryside and until 1987 in the capital. Stroessner was initially in a weak position, both within the Colorado Party and with the wider population. A small guerrilla movement organized by Liberals and Febreristas festered, but Stroessner employed the state’s virtually unlimited power by giving his interior minister a free hand to brutally repress insurgency. After a halfhearted attempt at a democratic ‘opening’ in 1959 turned into chaos, Stroessner turned to the old ways.
Luckily for him, the situation gradually improved in his favour. The United States, under Johnson and Nixon, backed Stroessner (in the name of anticommunism) and he became one of Washington’s most dependable allies on the continent. The opposition was demoralized by years of defeats and oppression, and a number of Liberals chose to play along with Stroessner’s regime by becoming the legal (and loyal) ‘opposition’ force to the Colorados in an irrelevant legislature. Between 1978 and 1982, the construction of the Itaipú Dam on the Brazilian border (Brazil contributed to a short-lived economic boom in Paraguay. Nevertheless, the economic boom proved short lived and did little to alleviate the poverty faced by so many Paraguayans. Many Paraguayans were forced to emigrate, to the point where some estimated that most Paraguayans were living outside the country. Under Stroessner, there was, naturally, not the slightest interest in land reform – the regime protected the interests of oligarchic landowners, controlled the weak labour movements and granted tax exemptions to foreign investors.
In the 1980s, Stroessner faced slightly tougher opposition. Under Domingo Laíno, a former congressman, some Liberals (known as the Authentic Liberal Radical Party, PLRA) became intransigent with the government, denouncing corruption, gross human rights violations and drug trafficking. The regime came under international fire for human rights abuses – Stroessner’s Paraguay was a key participation in Operation Condor in the 1970s and Stroessner’s secret police (the pyragüés) employed barbaric methods against opponents (the leader of the Communist Party was dismembered alive with a chainsaw with Stroessner listening in on the phone). Relations with Washington soured significantly after Carter’s election in 1976 and even Reagan maintained a certain distance from Stroessner’s thuggish regime. Even within the Colorado Party, there was growing opposition to Stroessner’s government – for example, in 1974, Stroessner arrested over a thousand party officials and then purged a large part of his party after a plot on his life was uncovered and showed that Colorado officials had provided information to guerrillas.
Stroessner was finally overthrown in a bloody military coup led by General Andrés Rodríguez. One reason for the coup was that the military feared that Stroessner’s sons would succeed him: one was a cocaine addict, the other was a homosexual. Rodríguez was later elected as President, for the Colorado Party, in a special election in 1989 which was the freest election in Paraguay up to that point. Under Rodríguez’s presidency, the country moved – slowly – towards democracy if not stability. The death penalty was abolished, repressive laws repealed, imprisoned leading members of the Stroessner government and adopted a new constitution in 1992.
In 1993, Juan Carlos Wasmosy – also of the Colorado Party – won 40% of the vote against 32% for Domingo Laíno (PLRA). Wasmosy’s term turned out to be a disaster. His attempts to apply Pinochet’s Chilean economic reforms to Paraguay failed given that Paraguay’s economy was nothing like Chile’s economy. His administration was also marked by rife corruption and nepotism, as Wasmosy used his office to enrich himself and his relatives. In April 1996, Wasmosy was almost overthrown in a military coup led by General Lino Oviedo, who had always been a bit insane (to say the least).
Lino Oviedo, found innocent by an appeals court in 1997, won the Colorado Party’s presidential nomination for the 1998 elections, to which Wasmosy responded by placing Oviedo under house arrest. Only a month before the election, a court finally sentenced Oviedo to ten years in jail for his role in the 1996 election. His running mate and close ally Raúl Cubas continued the campaign in his stead and won the presidency, with 55% of the vote against 44% for Domingo Laíno. Immediately upon taking office, Cubas pardoned Oviedo, who was immediately released from jail and became the new strongman of Paraguayan politics. However, the Supreme Court didn’t like Cubas’ decision to pardon Oviedo and ordered Oviedo to be sent back to jail, but Cubas picked a fight with the court and refused to send Oviedo back to jail.
In March 1999, Vice President Luis María Argaña – an anti-Oviedo leader within the Colorados – was assassinated (probably) by Oviedo’s men, likely with Cubas’ involvement. Argaña’s assassination set off bloody riots the next day, in which snipers killed seven anti-Oviedo demonstrators. These bloody riots, known as El Marzo Paraguayo, led to Cubas’ impeachment by the lower house and the President’s resignation on March 28. He was succeeded by the President of the Senate Luis Ángel González Macchi, also known as an anti-oviedista within the Colorado Party. The loss of political power sent Oviedo into exile, in Argentina and later in Brazil.
González Macchi’s term, which lasted until the 2003 election, was as disastrous as previous administrations: an inept and incompetent government, massive and endemic corruption at the highest echelons of powers and an economic crisis. Nicanor Duarte, another Colorado politician, won the 2003 election, with 38% against 25% for the Liberal candidate. Duarte’s administration proved more successful than past administrations, as the country enjoyed solid economic growth under his presidency – although social spending remained extremely low. Nevertheless, he was relatively unpopular because of factional conflicts in his party, a conflict with the media, a number of corruption cases and a controversial (unsuccesful) attempt to amend the constitution to allow him to run for reelection.
The 2008 presidential election was a decisive election. After 60 years in power, the Colorado Party was finally defeated – by a left-wing alliance supported by the PLRA. Fernando Lugo, a Catholic bishop who had supported Liberation Theology, won 41% of the vote against 31% for Blanca Ovelar, the Colorado candidate and 22% for Lino Oviedo, who had returned from exile in 2004 and founded his own party – the National Union of Ethical Citizens (UNACE).
Lugo had an ambitious agenda, which included land reform (most land in Paraguay is still in the hands of a select few), major social reforms and investments into health and education. While Lugo was able to accomplish a few things, including a treaty with Brazil in which Brasilia agreed to triple the amount it pays for Paraguayan electricity produced at the Itaipú dam. His government also significantly increased healthcare spending, and reformed the system to ensure free access to healthcare for the entire population. However, Lugo found himself frustrated in accomplishing his goals. His original electoral victory owed a lot to his alliance with the Liberals, who unsurprisingly had little appetite for the more leftist parts of Lugo’s agenda. Besides the PLRA, he had only a small handful of supporters in Congress.
In 2009, his popularity took a hit when it was revealed that he had fathered several illegitimate children during his time as a bishop. His presidency got bogged down in handling the fallout from that case. He took a personal hit with a cancer diagnosis in 2010.
By 2012, the Liberals had abandoned Lugo’s left-wing coalition and teamed up with the Colorados in opposition, looking for an excuse to remove Lugo from office. They found that excuse in June 2012, following a botched police operation to evict landless farmers. A few days later, on the account of “poor performance”, both houses of Congress voted quasi-unanimously to impeach Lugo. There was nothing illegal or unconstitutional in the way in which he was removed from office. However, one can easily argue that he was removed from office on flimsy grounds and the impeachment process was a farce. The debate lasted a mere two hours, and the main charge against Lugo was “poor performance” – which is hardly grounds for impeachment. Removed from office, Lugo was replaced by his ertswhile Vice President, Federico Franco, a Liberal. Lugo did not put up resistance, although his mood did go from resignation on the day of to feistiness a few days later, when he denounced a coup.
The controversial impeachment created a diplomatic crisis and threw Paraguay into a diplomatic purgatory. Brazil and Argentina, whose respective heads of state had generally been close allies of Lugo, condemned the impeachment as a ‘parliamentary coup’ and suspended Paraguay’s membership in Mercosur, the regional trade bloc. Along with other countries – including the leftist governments of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela but also conservative Chile and Colombia – they did not recognize the new government, making Franco a bit of a regional/international pariah.
Notwithstanding his weak legitimacy and his diplomatic isolation, Franco did manage to make the best out of the situation and proved to be a surprisingly competent President. In a country with a reputation as a safe haven for smugglers, drug traffickers and counterfeiters, Franco managed to create Paraguay’s first income tax. The country’s tax burden, 13.5% of GDP, is one of the lowest in the region and in the world, and the current taxation system is regressive with most taxes coming from consumption. The new income tax, set at 10%, only applies for incomes 120 times greater than the minimum wage; although it will progressively come down to all incomes 36 times greater than the minimum wage by 2018. Franco also granted land titles to rural squatters and bought private holdings to sell on easy terms to those without plots. A new law from September 2012 will dedicate around $40 million of revenues from the Itaipú dam to developing information technology in schools. Lugo had already started a ‘One Laptop Per Child’ scheme in schools nationwide with the help of a local NGO.
However, Franco has faced criticism – mostly from Lugo and the left – for allowing global giants Monsanto and Rio Tinto back into the country after Lugo’s government had resisted global corporations. Lugo said that Franco was merely the powerless pawn of multinationals and capital.
Candidates and Issues
The Colorado Party (officially: National Republican Association-Colorado Party, ANR-PC) candidate was Horacio Cartes, a 56-year old businessman who owns the Grupo Cartes, a large and powerful business conglomerate which includes Tabacalera del Este, Paraguay’s largest cigarette manufacturer, as well as beverage, banking, agricultural, transportation and trading interests. Cartes also owns Club Libertad, a large football club in Asunción which reached the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores in 2006. His father was Cessna’s representative in Paraguay and Cartes studied aeronautical engineering in the United States, where he briefly worked for Cessna in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Cartes is a controversial figure who carries a fair bit of baggage. In 1989, Cartes was imprisoned for seven months on charges of currency fraud but he was later cleared by a court. In 2000, police seized a plane carrying cocaine and marijuana on his ranch, he has defended himself saying the plane was forced to land because of mechanical problems and he had nothing to do with it. More recently, a leaked 2010 US State Department cable linked Cartes to a money laundering operation tied to drug trafficking. The cable said that his organization is suspected of laundering large quantities of US dollars generated through illegal means, including through the sale of narcotics to the US. There are also allegations that he made much of his fortune in cigarette smuggling, Paraguay having a reputation of being a old haven for smugglers. He defends himself on these counts by arguing that US investigations never turned up anything. Finally, investigative journalists recently found out that directors of a Paraguyan bank owned by Cartes had set up a ‘fake’ bank (no building or staff) in the Cook Islands in 1995.
Late in the campaign, Cartes made headlines and attracted some controversy when he called homosexuals ‘monkeys’ and said that he would shoot himself “in the balls” if his son was gay.
Cartes’ campaign focused on ‘change’ and very vague promises of fighting corruption, upgrading infrastructures, creating jobs, attracting foreign investment and business-friendly economic policies. Cartes presented himself as a businessman and political neophyte, untainted by the Colorado Party’s history and corrupt past. Indeed, he is quite the newcomer in politics: even his interest in politics is new – he voted for the first time in his life in this election – and he only joined the Colorados in 2009. Cartes’ actual platform seemed fairly devoid of substance and specifics. The Economist noted that the “Colorados’ plans seem to consist of a PowerPoint presentation listing roads, ports, airports and public transport to be built that goes far beyond what even the best-governed country could manage in just five years.”
The general gist of his platform appears to be business-friendly conservatism, which discusses the need to reform Paraguay’s bloated, indebted, corrupt and inefficient public system and huge web of public enterprises. Like the Liberals, the Colorados have said that they support a “Chilean model” for economic growth, which shows that Paraguayan politicians have yet to understand that Paraguay isn’t Chile.
The Liberal (PLRA) candidate was Efraín Alegre, a Senator and former public works minister under Lugo’s presidency. Alegre was the candidate of the Paraguay Alegre coalition, a ramshackle alliance which includes the Liberals and three smaller centre-left parties, including the Democratic Progressive Party, the party of Alegre’s running mate Rafael Filizzola.
Alegre’s platform was very similar to Cartes’: both are right-of-centre pro-business candidates, who both support reforming Paraguay’s public sector and promoting a “Chilean” model for economic growth. One of Alegre’s main proposals was to boost private investments in the public sector and private-public partnerships (although he opposed full privatizations), for example he said that he would offer concessions to the private sector to run airports, riverways and highways. The Liberal candidate also proposed to issue more debt abroad to finance infrastructure, a policy begun by Franco in January when the country organized its first bond issues in international markets.
In early February, Lino Oviedo – the insane coupist general who won 22.7% in the 2008 presidential election – died in a helicopter crash, abruptly ending his presidential candidacy. He was replaced by his nephew, Lino Oviedo Sánchez. Alegre, the underdog in the race against Cartes, was eager to make up lost ground and he negotiated a corrupt bargain with Oviedo Sánchez and his family’s party, the National Union of Ethical Citizens (UNACE), which is a rather hilarious name for a corrupt nepotistic party. Lino Oviedo Sánchez, who was polling about 6-8%, dropped out of the race (although his name remained on the ballot) in early April and endorsed Alegre. In exchange, if Alegre won, he would serve as minister of defense; UNACE deputy Fabiola Oviedo, Lino Oviedo’s daughter, would be minister of women and the then-President of the Senate Jorge Oviedo Matto (no relation to the Oviedo family) would be interior minister. A fairly run-of-the-mill electoral alliance, even if it was with a corrupt shell like UNACE. There was, however, another side to this deal. A few days before the Liberal-UNACE alliance was sealed, the incumbent Liberal government bought lands which belonged to Senator Oviedo Matto’s father. The Colorados, even if they are hardly in a position to give lessons on ethics, decried a corrupt bargain and maneuvered to remove Oviedo Matto from the presidency of the Senate. Although a Colorado-led impeachment motion failed on April 11 (all but one Liberal and two Colorados voted against), Oviedo Matto was nonetheless compelled to resign on April 16 (the Colorados apparently had a sufficient majority to impeach him by then). His successor as President of the Senate, Liberal deputy speaker Alfredo Jaeggli (the rogue Liberal vote against Oviedo Matto), was accused of fraudulent land sales in 2008 when he tried to sell land he didn’t even possess to the government. The Liberals and Colorados are not only ideologically similar, they’re also ethically similar: both are corrupt.
Both the Colorados and Liberals are venal, self-interested parties largely devoid of any ideological coherence or partisan unity. Both parties have been a complex mess of factions and competing corrupt politicians for over a hundred years now, and things have hardly changed. Alegre faced a group of Liberal dissidents who disapproved of his candidacy and did their best to scuttle his candidacy. Recently, these PLRA dissidents accused Alegre of fraud dating from the time when he was public works minister; they allege that he paid 3.3 billion guaraníes (about $US 813,000) for public works which never took place, the government never recovered the money.
Late in the campaign, both the Colorado and Liberal parties were shaken up by a rather bizarre scandal involving vote buying (widespread in Paraguay). Colorado Senator Silvio Ovelar was videotaped negotiating a vote buying deal with a local Liberal cacique who ‘controls’ 200 voters. Ovelar offered 100,000 guaraníes ($US 24) for each vote for the Colorados and for every voter dissuaded from voting for the Liberals. The whole affair took an even more bizarre twist when both parties justified themselves, trying to come off as holier-than-thou whistle-blowers who bravely denounced the other side’s dirty tricks. Ovelar said that he had secretly recorded the meeting to denounce the Liberal’s vote-buying, the Liberals said that Ovelar was the guy buying votes and that they set up the camera to trap Ovelar.
The left, already weak on its own, was divided between two candidates: Mario Ferreiro and Anibal Carrillo. Ferreiro, a journalist, was the candidate of the Avanza Paíscoalition. This alliance includes the Revolutionary Febrerista Party – the remnants of the febrerista revolutionary movement from 1936 – and smaller left-wing parties. Anibal Carrillo was the candidate of the Frente Guasú, Lugo’s left-wing coalition which includes the Communists and the Partido País Solidario, whose leader (a former interior minister) is the cousin of Alegre’s running mate. Fernando Lugo was the Frente Guasú‘s top candidate for the Senate.
The Paraguayan left is very weak, especially when compared to neighboring Brazil, Uruguay or Bolivia where the left is in a dominant position. The left was massacred under Stroessner’s dictatorship, which was able to destroy both the political left and any revolutionary labour movements. Unlike Brazil, Argentina or Chile, Paraguay has no large unionized urban-working-class which is often the first base of new left-wing socialist parties in Latin America. Agriculture remains an important employer in Paraguay, while industrialization is relatively limited. Secondly, although most Paraguayans speak a native language (Guaraní) as their first language rather than Spanish, there is large historically disadvantaged and oppressed indigenous population in the country, a factor which has been a driving force between the rise of the left in Bolivia and, arguably, Peru.
Other candidates included Miguel Carrizosa of the Beloved Fatherland Party, a right-wing party founded by conservative businessman Pedro Fadul who won 21.3% of the vote in the 2003 presidential election but only a bit over 2% in 2008.
Results and aftermath
Turnout was 68.57%, up from 65.6% in the 2008 election. Provisional results, for 99.26% of precincts in the presidential race, are available on the TSJE’s website here. Certified results are still unavailable.
Horacio Cartes (ANR-Colorado) 45.80%
Efraín Alegre (PLRA) 36.94%
Mario Ferreiro (Avanza País) 5.88%
Anibal Carrillo (Frente Guasú) 3.32%
Miguel Carrizosa (PPQ) 1.13%
Lino Oviedo Sánchez (UNACE) 0.8%
Roberto Ferreira (Humanist) 0.17%
Lilian Soto (Movimiento Kuña Pyrenda) 0.16%
Eduardo “Coco” Arce (Workers’ Party) 0.12%
Ricardo Martín Almada (White Party) 0.11%
Atanasio Galeano (Free Country) 0.1%
Senate (seat counts from ABC.py)
ANR-Colorado 35.76% winning 19 seats (+4)
PLRA 24.36% winning 12 seats (-2)
Frente Guasú 9.59% winning 5 seats (+3)
Democratic Progressive Party 6.22% winning 3 seats (+2)
Avanza País 4.99% winning 2 seats (+2)
UNACE 3.77% winning 2 seats (-7)
National Encounter Party 3.37% winning 1 seat (+1)
Beloved Fatherland Party 1.94% winning 1 seat (-3)
Youth Party 1.2% winning 0 seats (nc)
All others below 1%
Chamber of Deputies
ANR-Colorado 44 seats (+10)
PLRA 26 seats (-3)
UNACE 2 seats (-9)
Avanza País 2 seats (+2)
National Encounter Party 2 seats (+2)
Beloved Fatherland Party 1 seat (-3)
Frente Guasú 1 seat (nc)
Alianza Pasión Chaqueña 1 seat (+1)
Democratic Progressive Party 0 seats (-1)
to be allocated 1 seat
Horacio Cartes, the Colorado Party candidate and the favourite for most of the campaign, was elected with a comfortable majority over his closest rival, Efraín Alegre, the candidate backed by the governing Liberals. The Colorados, who had dominated Paraguayan politics since 1948, had lost the presidency in the 2008 election. But five years later, the Colorados are back in control. Obvious parallels may be drawn to the Mexican elections last year, in which the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) – which had ruled since 1929 until being kicked out in 2000 – returned to power. There are, however, differences between the two situations. The main one is that Horacio Cortes is the epitome of a political neophyte, a businessman with little known ties to old politicians in the Colorado Party. Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s priista President since 2012, was, however, a career politician when he ran for office and he is well connected to prominent old politicians in the PRI. The second difference is that the PRI changed, fairly significantly (although many would beg to differ) not only since 2000 but since the 1980s. The PRI since the 1980s has become far more of a technocratic party, with some autocratic inklings, and since 2000 one could argue that the PRI has ‘cleaned itself up’ somewhat. On the other hand, there is little proof that the Colorados have changed all that much in the past five years – everything indicates that they have retained their old ways.
The Colorados tend to start out with a structural advantage in Paraguayan elections. Even if they lost power in 2008, the party retains a huge membership base – up to a quarter of the population is said to be a member of the Colorado Party- and it has a well-oiled electoral machine. The Colorados also benefited from their opponents’ blunders. The left, as aforementioned, is very weak in Paraguay. Although Lugo was generally well regarded as President, many also judged his government to be quite inefficient. As a result, there was very little popular outrage to his impeachment by Congress in June 2012, in stark contrast to the international outrage which ensued. Secondly, while Lugo’s successor Federico Franco did accomplish a few positive things while in office, he does not leave office particularly popular. A number of corruption cases, first and foremost the dubious land deals with the UNACE’s Jorge Oviedo Matto, have cast a dark cloud over his presidency.
The alliance between the Liberals and the UNACE did not have the expected outcome. To begin with, the circumstances in which the deal was signed (land deal) hurt Alegre’s candidacy considerably. Moreover, as noted by a Liberal senator-elect, after Lino Oviedo died, the bulk of the oviedista/UNACE vote transferred, without a hitch, to the Colorados – perhaps their natural home given that Oviedo was a Colorado before going crazy.
While Liberal candidate Efrain Alegre was dogged by his party’s divisions and their public factional battles (as evidenced by the dissident Liberals accusing him of fraud, or the Colorados buying votes from a Liberal cacique), the Colorados were united behind their candidate. Despite questions over Cartes’ shady activities in the past or his controversial unscripted comments about homosexuals, he was able to convince a large number of unaligned voters with his vague promises of ‘change’, job creation and economic growth.
What can be expected from Cartes’ presidency?
Firstly, his victory means diplomatic normalization after the isolation and quasi-pariah status Paraguay was thrown into after Lugo’s impeachment last year. Brazil has said that Paraguay could be re-admitted to the Mercosur, but only on condition that the Congress ratifies Venezuela’s membership – Venezuela joined the regional trade bloc shortly after Paraguay was suspended last year, and some viewed the suspension as a trick to get Venezuela admitted (the Paraguayan Congress had been blocking its admission). Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro greeted Cartes’ victory surprisingly warmly, probably because Maduro wants Paraguay to ratify his country’s admission. Under Franco, relations between chavista Venezuela and Paraguay had been strained, particularly when Franco said that Chávez’s death was a ‘miracle’. It remains to be seen if Cartes’ pro-business conservative economic policies will isolate Asunción from its neighbors, given the popularity of more left-wing economic policies throughout most of the region.
As noted above, the Colorados have been quite vague about what they intend to do once in office. We know – or maybe only assume – that they favour conservative economic policies, including more private investments in the public sector and infrastructure. At the same time, the Colorados have also been known to fancy more statist economic policies at times, including in the recent past. Foreign observers, at least those who liked Franco’s cautious and tepid reformist agenda, hope that Cartes will follow in his predecessor’s footsteps by continuing his policies.
The country’s economic fortunes have fluctuated in recent years. While the economy receded by 1.2% in 2012 because of a slump in agricultural output and exports, the economy is projected to grow by 11% this year thanks to a record soy harvest (Paraguay is the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world). But growth is projected to slow to around 4.7% by 2014. Economic growth, job creation and especially poverty – in one of the region’s poorest and most unequal country where over 40% of the population lives in poverty – will be priorities for the new government. Most agree that a substantial increase in private and foreign investment will be needed to allow the country to reach 6-7% growth rates. Foreign investment already increased by 12% in 2009, and the outgoing Liberal government had allowed multinationals Rio Tinto Alcan and Monsanto to invest.
The Economist described Cartes’ victory as “back to the past”. There are good reasons to worry that Paraguay might be sliding backwards with the Colorado Party’s return to power. Cartes already has unsavoury reputation abroad because of his suspected ties to money laundering and drug trafficking, and many fear that his victory only means that Paraguay will erase the small progresses made in the past few years and return to its old image as a corrupt ‘backwards’ state providing safe haven for drug traffickers and smugglers of all kinds. Will Paraguay slide backwards with Cartes, or will the new President show at least some interest in reforming the country as needed?