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Monday, May 1, 2023

Paraguay Voters Elect Conservative Economist as President

POZO COLORADO, Paraguay — Paraguayans elected Santiago Peña, a 44-year-old conservative economist, as their new president on Sunday, holding the South American nation within the management of the right-wing Colorado Get together that has run the nation for all however 5 of the previous 76 years.

The end result implies that Paraguay, a landlocked nation of seven million folks, has resisted the leftward shift throughout Latin America in recent times. As an alternative, Paraguayans delivered victory to a right-wing candidate who made imprecise guarantees so as to add jobs, decrease vitality costs and clear drug addicts from the road.

Mr. Peña had 43 p.c of the vote with 99 p.c of the ballots counted, defeating two challengers who cut up the opposition vote.

His election may complicate Paraguay’s relationship with america, a detailed ally.

Mr. Peña is a political protégé of a former Paraguayan president, Horacio Cartes, who’s one in every of its richest males and the president of the Colorado Get together. In January, the American Treasury Division imposed sanctions on Mr. Cartes over accusations that he had doled out hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in bribes to pave his technique to energy and that he had constructed ties to the Islamist militant group Hezbollah.

In his victory speech Sunday evening, Mr. Peña stood subsequent to Mr. Cartes, hugged him and thanked him first. “Your contribution, president, can solely be paid with the forex of respect, of appreciation and approval,” Mr. Peña mentioned. “Thanks for this Colorado victory.”

Mr. Peña’s victory exhibits that his celebration has retained a agency grip on Paraguayan society many years after the autumn of the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, a Colorado Get together regime that dominated from 1954 to 1989.

The Colorado Get together’s highly effective political machine was on show on Election Day, with a dense community of political operators fanned out throughout the nation. They monitored voting stations, bused Indigenous folks to the polls and pressed voters to elect Mr. Peña.

That group appeared to make up for the troublesome gross sales pitch Mr. Peña needed to make to voters. Throughout the marketing campaign, he introduced himself as a contemporary face — regardless of being Paraguay’s former finance minister and a distinguished determine within the nation’s dominant political celebration, which was based in 1887.

Mr. Peña additionally tried to distance himself from Paraguay’s present chief, President Mario Abdo Benítez, who can also be from the Colorado Get together. Mr. Benítez, who can not run once more due to time period limits, is one in every of Latin America’s most unpopular leaders due to his dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic, in keeping with opinion surveys.

However Mr. Peña’s trickiest problem was his shut ties to Mr. Cartes. The U.S. authorities has accused Mr. Cartes of “a concerted sample of corruption,” alleging that he paid as much as $50,000 a month to lawmakers whereas president and that he performed a few of his illicit enterprise at occasions held by Hezbollah.

Mr. Cartes has denied the accusations, dismissing them as politically motivated. He declined requests for an interview.

One political opponent, Efraín Alegre, who completed second on Sunday with 27 p.c, seized on the allegations in the course of the marketing campaign, calling Mr. Cartes the “Paraguayan Pablo Escobar” and saying that Mr. Peña was Mr. Cartes’s “secretary.”

Mr. Peña mentioned in an interview on Friday that he believed Mr. Cartes was harmless and that he couldn’t perceive how america may have gotten it so improper.

“I feel that is going to be one of many nice mysteries, together with: Might or not it’s that man reached the moon? Or who assassinated President Kennedy?” he mentioned. “These unsolved mysteries that we are able to by no means know.”

On Sunday evening, as he stood subsequent to his mentor, Mr. Peña led his victory celebration in a chant of “Beloved Horacio, the individuals are with you.”

Mr. Peña’s ties to Mr. Cartes have been on the minds of some voters.

“He’s chief, but when he wins, it gained’t be him that governs, sadly,” mentioned Mariano Ovelar, 39, who waits tables and performs the keyboard in a truck-stop restaurant in Paraguay’s rural north.

Mr. Peña, a former Worldwide Financial Fund economist in Washington, largely targeted his marketing campaign on the financial system, promising to create 500,000 jobs, supply free kindergarten, lower gasoline and vitality costs, and get extra law enforcement officials on the road.

His solely rationalization for the way he would pay for these guarantees was to develop the financial system by eliminating pink tape and holding taxes among the many lowest on this planet. “Paraguayans perceive that we might be essentially the most developed nation on this planet,” Mr. Peña mentioned.

Paraguay is one in every of South America’s poorest nations. 1 / 4 of its inhabitants lives in poverty, colleges are rated among the many worst within the area and hospitals are brief on fundamental medicines.

Mr. Peña attributed Paraguay’s underdevelopment to its crushing defeat in a battle in opposition to its neighbors that resulted in 1870 and worn out most of its male inhabitants. “The battle made us miss the prepare of improvement,” he mentioned.

His reply to these issues is to streamline the federal government and make Paraguay extra welcoming to companies.

Mr. Peña seems to be aiming to appease america, most notably by pledging to maintain Paraguay among the many membership of 13 international locations — largely small island nations — that preserve diplomatic relations with Taiwan fairly than China. Paraguay and Taiwan sealed ties in 1957, when each have been led by dictators, and Taiwan has since paid for Paraguay’s modernist congressional constructing and donated its presidential jet.

However because of this, Paraguay’s farmers face obstacles in exporting soybeans and beef to China. Mr. Peña mentioned in an interview that shut financial ties with Taiwan would go away Paraguay in a greater long-term place than constructing its financial system round promoting commodities to China.

Cristaldo Tabares, 65, a builder who lives in a riverside suburb of the capital, Asunción, mentioned he voted for Mr. Peña on Sunday, however reluctantly. “I like Efraín greater than Peña,” he mentioned, referring to the No. 2 finisher.

Mr. Tabares wished to forged his poll for Mr. Alegre as a result of he represented change, he mentioned, “however I couldn’t.” That was as a result of the Colorado Get together had employed him as a polling station official and he felt he ought to vote for his employer.

Requested what he considered Paraguay’s potential future below Mr. Peña, he shrugged and laughed: “No person is aware of what’s going to occur.”

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