Cmistakes are nothing New Paraguay. But the scale of the U.S. backlash it provoked could be. Marc Ostfield at a news conference at his embassy in Asunción on January 26 us The ambassador announced tough new sanctions against two of the most powerful figures in the ruling Colorado party. Horacio Cartes, who served as the country’s president from 2013 to 2018, and current vice president Hugo Velázquez have been accused of “rampant corruption” and links to terrorists.
Mr. Cartes, a wealthy businessman, is accused of paying party members as much as $10,000 to support his presidential candidacy. He also allegedly offered up to $50,000 a month to lawmakers, promising to split $1 million if they amended the constitution to allow him to be re-elected. The Biden administration argues that for more than a decade, Mr. Cartes “used his illicit wealth and influence to expand his political and economic power over Paraguay’s institutions.” Mr. Velázquez is accused of threatening and offering bribes To “protect yourself and your fellow criminals”. Both have denied all allegations.
The U.S. also accused the duo of sending representatives to accept bribes in exchange for state contracts and favors at events in Paraguay hosted by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Islamist militant group backed by Iran and designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. The two companies are now banned from doing business with U.S. citizens and banks. Earlier sanctions had barred them and their families from entering U.S. soil.
There was a time when the United States was kinder to Paraguay’s rulers. As dictator from 1954 to 1989, Alfredo Stroessner allowed whiskey, cars and cocaine to be smuggled into Brazil in exchange for the loyalty of his generals and the Colorado Party. But until at least 1977, the United States had been training Paraguayan soldiers, providing guns and helicopters, and helping the country secure multilateral loans and aid.
The world has changed, and corruption in Paraguay has worsened. According to Transparency International, in South America, only Venezuela has a sharper view of official corruption, non-governmental organization. This is detrimental to Paraguay’s 7 million people, and has consequences far beyond its borders. Drug gangs, as well as Hezbollah and other groups, are increasingly using the country as a transit point. It is South America’s leading cannabis producer and an important pipeline for Andean cocaine. Record amounts have been found in paint, rice and soybeans in Paraguay. Journalists, officials and bystanders are murdered with alarming frequency.
Mr. Carters owns 30 businesses — television stations, hotels, ranches, banks, pharmacies and supermarkets. His crown jewel was the cigarette maker Tabesa. Millions of packets of coffee are smuggled abroad every year, especially from Ciudad del Este, near the triangle between Argentina and Brazil. They were reportedly sold by rogue galleries: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Guerrillas in Colombia, the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, and pCCa ruthless Brazilian drug lord multinational.
Mr Cartes’ people insist the Tabesa sale is “100 per cent legal”. They point out that the company is Paraguay’s largest taxpayer and has never been accused of smuggling — a phenomenon they attribute to higher foreign duties on cigarettes. They claim the U.S. charges were “orchestrated” by current President Mario Abdo Benítez, Cartes’ rival in the Colorado party. They claim that the United States wants to favor enemies of Mr Carters in the presidential elections scheduled for April. They argue that no Paraguayan has a closer relationship with Israel – Hezbollah’s sworn enemy – than Mr Carters. As for Mr. Velázquez — a former Ciudad del Este prosecutor — his lawyer said the allegations were “completely false” and that “no one has done more to combat organized crime than Paraguay.”
series of allegations
In recent years, judges, navy officials, MPs, prison guards, police officers, cabinet ministers and health officials have all been implicated in egregious corrupt schemes, but have mostly escaped severe punishment. Lately, this vulgarity has become even more horrific. Opposition congresswoman Kattya González said many of her congressional colleagues were being funded by gangsters. She called out some to their faces and posted the clip online. Her videos have been viewed 42 million times.
It’s dangerous.The killers of the past year alone were probably bought by drug gangs pCC, murdered a local mayor, a radio reporter, a former prison warden and a prosecutor. Ms. Gonzalez and her family have received death threats. “We’re a quasi-drug,” she frets.
Washington’s sanctions are unlikely to hurt ultraconservative Colorado — which has been in power since 1947 for just five years — at the ballot box. Paraguayans complain about mercenary politicians, but most have more pressing priorities. One in four lives in poverty; two thirds work informally. A drought could tip the economy into recession in 2022.Equivalent to 13.9% of gross domestic product, government taxes are the lowest in South America; cancer hospitals have no medicines. Desperate citizens were forced to rely on the support of the Colorado Party.
Despite his unpopularity in Washington, Carters looked safe. In December, the Colorado Party held internal elections. Mr. Carters was picked as its leader on a landslide, with the party picking the former finance minister and its candidate of choice, Santiago Peña, for a presidential election in April. Facing a divided opposition, also tainted by (less serious) corruption allegations, he is the favorite to win. ■