The interference of the United States in the internal affairs of Paraguay is part of that country’s daily life, and is even considered as something normal. In the current situation, when the final stage of the electoral race has started, the two candidates with the option of winning the elections, Santiago Peña of the National Republican Association (Colorado Party) and Efraín Alegre of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) met separately with US Ambassador Marc Ostfield and ostensibly published photos of the meeting. Both are candidates of the system and strong allies of the United States, in such a way that this meeting is not even understood as interference.
Although only a few weeks ago, everything indicated that the Colorado candidate Peña would be the winner in the elections unless some unpredictable and surprising event occurred. Such an event took place on January 26 when the United States imposed economic sanctions on Paraguayan Vice President Hugo Velázquez and former President Horacio Cartes for “corruption”, after having banned them from entering the country months ago.
As happened in Honduras with former president Juan Orlando Hernández, Washington supported their candidacies, supported them, ignoring the accusations of independent international organizations and an important part of public opinion in their own countries, to later attack them when they no longer serve well for Washington’s conservative onslaught contrary to the interests of the peoples.
It is worth saying that with the existence of objective and subjective conditions to produce a change similar to what has been occurring in a good part of Latin America, the division of the left does not allow it to be an important electoral actor.
In the midst of the electoral dynamics, the PLRA candidate has made some concessions to attract a sector of the left that is part of the Guasú Front. Among other electoral declarations of Alegre, the announcement that in case of winning the elections, he would establish relations with China stands out. But the majoraity of Paraguayan analysts evaluates this as nothing more than an electoral maneuver.
In this framework, the decision of the United States to place Cartes on the list of corrupt politicians of the State Department is no more than a new meddling maneuver. Therefore, any company or citizen that does business with Cartes will be subject to sanctions by Washington. In a desperate maneuver, Cartes gave his sons the shares of his companies in order to evade the sanctions, seeking to survive as a businessman, since his political career seems to have come to an end.
With this provision, the United States manifests an open and brazen intrusion into the electoral process that was covered up by the Paraguayan media. This action has generated a real problem for the candidacy of Santiago Peña who grew politically hand in hand with the former president and is known as his closest pupil.
When the decision of the United States could no longer be concealed, and the media -as if moved by a magic hand – began a frontal and homogeneous attack against Peña, he met with the United States ambassador after which he made a press statement. Here, he highlighted that in case of winning the elections, the priority of his foreign policy would be aimed at strengthening Paraguay’s relations with the United States, Israel and Taiwan. In this way, he sent a direct message to the business class, especially if one considers that some sectors of it, especially those linked to the production of meat and soybeans -prioritizing their large corporate interests- in an increasingly open way think favorably about of the need to establish relations with China.
The statement from the United States embassy on January 26 was particularly harsh, stating that “before, during and after his presidential term,” Cartes engaged in a “coordinated pattern of corruption” that includes bribing officials and legislators.US Ambassador Marc Ostfield himself assured that for more than a decade, Cartes took advantage of his illegitimately acquired wealth and his influence “to expand his political and economic power in Paraguayan institutions.”
For this reason, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) resolved to sanction Cartes for his “involvement in systematic corruption that has undermined democratic institutions in Paraguay.” Likewise, OFAC froze any financial assets that he might have in the United States, in addition to which, specific sanctions were imposed against four companies controlled by Cartes and his family. With this action, the United States weakened the Colorado party that is now seeking to distance itself from the former president.
Within this framework, Peña has surreptitiously sought to distance himself from his privileged relationship with Cartes. In the event that Peña wins the elections, to sustain himself, he will do everything in his power to favor the instructions of the United States embassy because that seems to be his best victory card. That, of course, includes his distancing from Cartes, which he cannot get rid of now because he needs it to win the elections given the great influence that the former president maintains in important sectors of the Colorado party. However, following instructions from the US Embassy, Peña has been careful not to publicly criticize Cartes.
This situation seems contradictory, because the US decision to involve Cartes in corruption could have been interpreted as favorable to the PLRA. In reality, as a Paraguayan analyst has said, what the United States embassy has done is an internal “reset” to place both Liberals and Colorados under its control, so that there is no way out of either of these two matches, knowing that whoever wins will be in total harmony with the United States.
According to the website of the Frente Amplio party of Paraguay, prone to Alegre’s candidacy, the opposition has begun to insist on the need for a “useful vote” in favor of him, in order to defeat Peña. They affirm that all the polls point to a confrontation between Alegre and Peña, for which they are appealing for the creation of a united front in which “the other opposition candidates put the possibility of alternation before opting for the best positioned”.
On the other hand, based on its traditional extreme opportunism, the PLRA points out that in the current scenario, there must be an alternation that forces the designation of a single candidate from the opposition, as an option that would offer great possibilities to defeat the Colorado party. It should not be forgotten that the PLRA was part of the government coalition that brought Fernando Lugo to power, to later make an alliance with the Colorados who led the 2012 coup to take power. So that betrayal is a natural part of his political work. The US embassy knows that. And it is from this that he is building his “gatopardian” change in the Guarani country.