Monday, April 22, 2013

The Colorado Party Returns: Horacio Cartes Wins Paraguay Elections

On Sunday, Colorado Party candidate Horacio Cartes was elected president of Paraguay with 45.8 percent of the vote, while his closest competitor Efrain Alegre of the Liberal Party received 36.94 percent. Cartes’ win is a major triumph for his conservative party, and marks its return to power after former President Fernando Lugo interrupted 60 years of Colorado rule in 2008.

When Cartes takes office in August, it will restore democratically-elected rule in the country, which was halted last June when Lugo was impeached and subsequently replaced by Vice President Federico Franco, a Liberal. This will likely cause the Mercosur trading bloc and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to reestablish Paraguay’s full membership in both organizations. According to MercoPress, the presidents of Uruguay and Argentina have already congratulated Cartes and invited him to attend the next Mercosur summit in June.

But while Cartes’ election is set bring an end to Paraguay’s regional isolation caused by Lugo’s controversial overthrow, it raises new concerns about the state of democracy within the South American nation.

One of these is the restoration of the Colorado Party’s political dominance. The leftist-Liberal coalition that brought Lugo to power in 2008 crumbled last June when the Liberal Party turned on the president and backed his impeachment. Yet Cartes’ wide margin of victory in this election suggests that the Liberals do not have enough votes to take the presidency without the support of smaller leftist parties.

As political analyst Alfredo Boccia told Reuters, “The big defeat today was for the Liberal Party, they must be asking themselves why they backed the impeachment.”

With the Colorado Party in power once again and the main opposition party reluctant to ally itself with more progressive factions, some on the Paraguayan left may feel marginalized from traditional politics, a factor that could fuel support for the small insurgent group in the north of the country, the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP). The EPP is tiny (officials say it has less than 50 fighters) but committed, and its members have proven difficult to capture despite repeated military operations in their area of influence. Noticias ABC Digital reports that the group’s most recent attack came on Sunday, in an assault on a police station in which one officer and a rebel were killed.

Another reason to be concerned for the political climate in Paraguay is Cartes’ allegedly criminal past. In recent weeks evidence has emerged to suggest he may have taken part in a money laundering scheme, and he also faces persistent allegations of links to drug trafficking groups. As InSight Crime points out, a 2010 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks claims that the DEA identified him as the head of a transnational criminal organization.

News Briefs
  • After he was officially sworn in on Friday, President Nicolas Maduro has announced a cabinet reshuffle. The AP reports that Maduro is appointing 16 new ministers, replacing nearly half of the administration officials who had been put in place by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. By and large the most well-known cabinet members -- like Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, Defense Minister Diego Molero and Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas -- will remain. Among the newcomers is Nelson Merentes, who will serve in the newly-created office of the “Economic Vice-president.” The responsibilities of the office appear similar to the function of a finance minister, a position Merentes has held several times under Chavez. He is believed to be a more pragmatic member of the administration, and foreign financial analysts see as a positive move, according to Reuters.
  • Pope Francis has released a statement urging an end to the escalated political division in the country. "I invite the dear Venezuelan people, and in particular its institutional and political leaders, to establish a dialogue based on the truth, mutual recognition in the search for the common good and out of love for the nation," the first Latin American pope said.
  • The U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report for 2012, which is highly critical of the Venezuelan government for alleged politicization of the judicial system and restrictions on freedom of expression.
  • On Friday, the tribunal overseeing the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt convened briefly and announced that it would refuse to honor a ruling by a separate judge who ordered the court to annul its proceedings. Judge Yazmín Barrios, head of the tribunal, announced that the court “not obliged to comply with an order that violates our jurisdiction.” However, Plaza Publica reports that she did recognize that the Rios Montt trial would have to be suspended in order to allow for the Consitutional Court to resolve the issue.
  • Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca is in The Hague today to help prepare the country’s official complaint concerning its border dispute with Chile, which will be delivered to the International Court of Justice on Wednesday. If successful, Bolivia stands to gain access to the Pacific Ocean for the first time since 1883. La Tercera reports that one of the lawyers Bolivia has hired to argue its case is Alan Vaughan Lowe, a British national who is currently representing Peru in a similar border dispute with Chile.
  • The Miami Herald reports that a Florida judge has granted asylum to the family of a Mexican union leader who was targeted for his political activity, and notes that there has been a marked rise in the number of Mexican immigrants being granted asylum status over the past decade.
  • The BBC looks at the town of La Nahuaterique, which was originally in El Salvador but became part of Honduras as part of the a 1992 border treaty. Locals mostly identify as Salvadorans, although they complain that their town’s needs are ignored by the governments of both countries.
  • El Heraldo reports that poll numbers in Honduras suggest that leftist candidate Xiomara Castro has a slight advantage over her rival Salvador Nasralla ahead of November’s presidential elections, although both candidates are disputing poll data to claim the upper hand.
  • On Friday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced publicly that he is considering running for re-election, the Wall Street Journal reports. However, his flagging level of support may make this difficult. Polls show that two-thirds of Colombians oppose his re-election, and about half of the population views him in a negative light.

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