Thursday, August 15, 2013

Paraguay’s Cartes Takes Office Amid Regional Diplomatic Jockeying

Paraguay’s new president, Horacio Cartes, takes office today, returning the country to democratically-elected rule and paving the way for its return to Mercosur. But Cartes is in no hurry to rejoin the regional trading bloc, and Paraguay’s relations with its neighbors are still affected by the aftermath of last year’s constitutional crisis.

Cartes, a 57-year-old business tycoon who was targeted in 2010 by the DEA for alleged smuggling, money laundering and ties to the drug trade, is a newcomer to Paraguay’s political landscape.  As the AP notes, he had never registered to vote prior to running for president.

Although Cartes’ election marks the Colorado Party’s return to power after former President Fernando Lugo interrupted 60 years of consecutive Colorado rule in 2008, he remains in many ways a party outsider. Paraguay’s ABC Digital reports that Cartes has chosen to staff his cabinet with technocrats over party loyalists. Of the 22 individuals he announced he would nominate to top government positions yesterday, none are known as particularly active in the party. This has left some Colorado Party leaders, who have expressed a desire to see more of their own in the cabinet, displeased.

Cartes takes office this morning in a ceremony in which delegates from over 100 countries and international organizations are slated to attend. There will be some notable absences, however, including members of the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia. While the latter country refrained from addressing the matter publicly, the administration of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa released a statement lamenting the fact that Cartes “failed to invite a brother country -- Venezuela -- whose leader, Nicolas Maduro, was not taken account in the ceremony.”

While Maduro was not invited, his political opponents were. According to EFE, the Venezuelan opposition will be represented by MUD Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado, who was invited by Paraguayan Senator Miguel Saguier, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The reasons for this snub are clear. In addition to lingering questions about whether Maduro tried to orchestrate a pro-Lugo military intervention in the wake of last year’s “golpeachment,” Venezuela took advantage of Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur to apply to join the organization. This was swiftly ratified, as Paraguayan lawmakers had been the main impediment to Venezuela’s membership, and in a Mercosur meeting in Montevideo last month, Maduro inherited the rotating presidency of the trade bloc.

Cartes had made it clear that he would not seek to rejoin the trade bloc if Mercosur’s presidency went to Maduro, and he appears to be sticking to this promise. The AFP reports that the new Paraguayan Foreign Minister, Eladio Loizaga, has announced that the country will not have relations with the trade bloc, though it will maintain bilateral ties with the other three Mercosur founding nations (Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil). Paraguayan officials also told the news agency that the Cartes administration is now hoping to pursue full membership in the Pacific Alliance, joining Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile.


News Briefs
  • In response to yesterday’s massacre in Egypt, in which security forces are believed to have killed over 500 supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, Ecuador was the first country in the region to recall its ambassador to the country.
  • After Venezuela’s PSUV-controlled National Assembly created a committee specifically charged with investigating Primero Justicia, the political party of opposition leader Henrique Capriles, El Nacional reports that Capriles has denounced this as political persecution and is openly daring the government to arrest him. The ruling party has accused Primero Justicia of receiving illegal funds and involvement in a prostitution ring, for which officials ordered the arrest of Oscar Lopez, a close aide of Capriles’. According to the AP, PSUV legislator Pedro Carreno presented photos on the Assembly floor on Tuesday which appeared to show Lopez  in womens’ clothing at a party.
  • Carreno then used homophobic language to describe Capriles, which the opposition immediately seized upon. The AP reports that Pro-Inclusion, a diversity organization sponsored by opposition party Voluntad Popular, accused the ruling party of bigotry and homophobia.  President Maduro also addressed the photos, and accused Capriles of using his office as governor to “prostitute youths.” Later, in a public address, Carreno apologized for what he deemed “excesses in [his] vocabulary.”
  • The Andean Information Network (AIN) offers an insightful analysis of the latest report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on potential cocaine production in the Andes. The ONDCP found evidence of a major regional decrease in the entire region from 2011 to 2012, with the largest reduction -- 18 percent -- occurring in Bolivia, followed by 8 percent in Colombia and 5 percent in Peru. However, as the Information Network points out, the ONDCP listed Bolivia’s potential production in 2011at 190 metric tons instead of 265, which was its own estimate last year. If the ONCDCP’s original figure for Bolivia were used, this would bring the reduction in cocaine production potential to a whopping 41 percent, which is just one of many statistical irregularities identified by the AIN.
  • The New York Times reports that the U.S. government has officially requested that Mexican authorities re-arrest an alleged drug lord convicted of ordering the 1985 murder of a DEA agent. A Mexican court ordered the release of Rafael Caro Quintero last week after ruling that he had been improperly tried in federal rather than state court. According to the NYT, the Justice Department issued an arrest warrant for Caro’s arrest, a move which anonymous officials said was encouraged by Mexico’s attorney general.
  • Lawmakers of Mexico’s PRI and PRD parties are supporting a measure to reform the country’s highly-regarded public transparency agency, the Institute of Access to Information and Protection of Data (IFAI). According to Animal Politico, the plan would allow any government official to seek permission from the Supreme Court not to turn over data if they deem it jeopardizes national security, as well as re-elect the five members of the IFAI’s commission.
  • The government of Brazil’s Sao Paulo state on Tuesday announced it would sue German engineering firm Siemens AG, which it accuses of setting up a price fixing cartel on costs associated with public transport upkeep with other international firms. Earlier this week, Folha de Sao Paulo claimed Spain’s CAF, Japan’s Mitsui, Canada’s Bombardier and Alstom of France were also involved in the price-fixing scheme.
  • The Tuesday murder of a teen in Rio de Janeiro’s Penha favela sparked mass protests in the neighborhood last night, as locals accused police of orchestrating the killing. Police were called in to respond to the demonstration, and three buses were burned by protesters. O Globo reports that the head of police pacification units in the city, Frederico Caldas, that “criminals and drug traffickers” were behind the clashes with police.
  • Costa Rica and Nicaragua are once again in a diplomatic spat, after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega  announced he would present a petition to the Hague challenging Costa claims to the province of Guanacaste, which it annexed in 1824, La Nacion reports. BBC Mundo has an overview of the conflict, which has caused Costa Rica to recall its ambassador in protest.
  • Workers at the world’s largest copper mine, Chile’s Minera Escondida, went on strike yesterday, AP and La Tercera report, calling for an annual bonus and improved conditions. The strike was initially slated to last 24 hours, though union leaders claim it could extend beyond that.
  • Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who turned 87 this week, has written a long, winding article in state newspaper Granma. In it, he remarks that he is surprised to have survived for so long after a stomach ailment in 2006, and reminisces about the Cold War, thanking North Korea for providing arms in the 1980s amid chilled relations with the Soviet Union. The BBC notes that the remarks come just as UN investigators are looking into whether Cuba violated international sanctions by attempting to send missile parts to North Korea through the Panama Canal.