On June 21, Paraguayan voters elected Horacio Cartes Jara, candidate of the right wing Colorado Party as president. However, the left made some modest but significant advances in legislative seats, especially in the Senate. All neighboring states immediately recognized the results of the election.
Cartes is a wealthy tobacco farmer and businessman who had not even voted until 2008, and at one time or another has been under investigation for involvement with drug traffic and financial offenses. His Colorado Party was for decades the political base for General Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled Paraguay from 1954 to 1989 as a repressive dictator.
Cartes decided to run as a way of countering the left-wing political trend that has been sweeping many Latin American countries in recent years, and has been noted for his lurid homophobic statements. In Sunday’s election, he got 1,095,469 or 45.8 percent of the vote. Far behind him was Efrain Alegre of the “Paraguay Alegre” (Happy Paraguay) Front, which includes the Liberal Party of the incumbent President Federico Franco with 36.94 percent of the vote, Mario Ferreiro of the left-center Avanza Pais (Forward Country) alliance with 5.88 percent, and Anibal Carillo of the left-wing Guasú Front, with 3.32 percent. The Guasú Front is a group of 11 parties including the Communist Party of Paraguay, and was supported by former President Fernando Lugo. Six other parties also competed. Guasú representatives complained that they were not allowed full access to media and that their poll watchers were impeded in their work.
The death of another right-wing candidate, former General Lino Oviedo, in a helicopter crash in January probably helped Cartes to win; Oviedo’s voters evidently swung over to the Colorado candidate.
In the 45 seat Senate, Cartes’ Colorados failed to achieve a majority, though they did get 19 seats. The Liberals (Authentic Radical Liberal Party) which in Paraguay is a conservative party, got the next highest number of seats with 12. The leftist Guasú front made an important advance, winning 5 seats, or 9.6 percent of the Senate vote. One of the Guasú seats will be held by former President Lugo. Ferrerio’s Forward Country will have 2 to 3 seats. The left-center Democratic Progressive Party will have 3 seats.
In the 100 member Chamber of Deputies, or lower house, seats have not yet been distributed among the parties pending a finalization of the vote counting. According to preliminary results, the Colorados have won 37.3 percent, the Liberals 13.0 percent, National Union of Ethical Citizens 8.8 percent, Beloved Fatherland Party 8.8 percent, Forward Country 8.1 percent and the Guasú Front only 2.8 percent.
The lead up to this election began in June of last year when the Paraguayan Congress impeached the leftist President Fernando Lugo and removed him from office.
The reason given was that earlier that month, there had been a clash between landless laborers and police at an estate at Curuguaty in the East of the country, in which 17 laborers and police lost their lives. The laborers had been occupying an estate owned by Blas Riquelme, an important Colorado Party politician, which they claimed (it would appear, correctly) had been acquired illegally. Many people think the Curuguaty incident was a provocation or setup designed to discredit the Lugo government.
Lugo was elected in 2008 on a platform which included defense of the rights of poor farmworkers. However, he never had a supportive Congress and had to rule through shaky alliances with the Liberal Party and others well to the right of him. Wikileaks cables show that important figures such as the late general and arch-conspirator Lino Oviedo had been planning for a while to find a pretext to remove Lugo.
The Liberals immediately ditched Lugo and set the impeachment process in motion. It went forward with lightning speed; Lugo was given only 24 hours to prepare his defense against the charges and was removed from office by the Senate with only 4 votes dissenting. Many Paraguayans as well as the governments of neighboring countries felt that this was a coup d’etat with a thin veneer of constitutional legality, and Paraguay was suspended from the MERCOSUR trade group pending a clean new election. Ironically the suspension Paraguay made it possible for MERCOSUR to approve the application for membership of leftist Venezuela, the outcome that the Paraguayan right least wanted.
Paraguayans are now wondering what kind of president Horacio Cartes will turn out to be. His platform called for increasing direct foreign investment by the implementation of neo-liberal methods, including especially reducing employment in the public sector. His election will come as pleasant news to those foreign based monopolies that have already been grabbing up properties in Paraguay, specifically the Monsanto agri-business giant which is eager to turn even more Paraguayan farmland over to vast soybean production, and the Canadian mining giant Rio Tinto-Alcan, which is also eagerly expanding its Paraguay operations against considerable popular opposition.
The neo-liberal program of President elect Cartes (who will be sworn in in August) and the projected plans of Monsanto and Rio Tinto-Alcan translate into more displacement of poor farmers and more environmental damage. This will create more uproar in the Paraguayan countryside, as urban citizens find that Cartes’ promises of more jobs brought by foreign investment turns out to be the pipe dream that other poor countries have already experienced. But the leftist Guasú Front promise that with their increased representation in the Senate they are ready to fight for the interests of the poor.
Paraguayan farmers protest the use of transgenic soy and herbicides during a march organized by the National Farmers Federation’s (FNC) in Asuncion, Paraguay, March 21. The FNC demands the government prohibit transgenic soy and herbicides. President Federico Franco approved the use of transgenic soy and herbicides in Oct. 2012 by presidential decree. Jorge Saenz/AP