On Sunday, Paraguay will conduct its first elections since the parliamentary coup that deposed Fernando Lugo last year. According to the sociologist Marco Castillo, voters face a choice between reactionary oligarchism with fascist inclinations – the Liberal party candidate, Efraín Alegre, in alliance with the extremist UNACE party – and reactionary oligarchism with narcotrafficking inclinations: the Colorado candidate, and favourite to win, Horacio Cartes. A leaked cable from the US embassy in Buenos Aires three years ago described Cartes as the head of an ‘organisation believed to launder large quantities of United States currency generated through illegal means, including through the sale of narcotics, from the TBA’ – the Tri Border Area of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil – ‘to the United States’.
Cartes promises a ‘responsible and efficient government’ and ‘a new direction for the country, with opportunities for everyone’. But some will have more opportunities than others. Eighty per cent of Paraguay’s agricultural land is owned by 2 per cent of the population. In April 2012, 60 landless campesinos occupied land in Curuguaty ‘belonging’ to Blas Riquelme, a businessman and former Colorado party politician (in 1969 the Stroessner dictatorship gave him 50,000 hectares that was supposed to be distributed among poor farmers). On 15 June the campesinos were confronted by the Paraguayan police. The result: 11 dead campesinos, six dead policemen, and the pretext the anti-Lugo phalanx had been waiting for to overthrow the elected leader and install the Liberal vice-president, Federico Franco, in his place.
I interviewed Franco last week at the presidential residence in Asunción. He painted an idyllic picture of post-coup Paraguay, cleansed of the pernicious influence of Hugo Chávez, whose demise, he told El País, was ‘a blessing’. Pumping the air with his fists for periodic emphasis, Franco pronounced the country ‘ideal for investors’. After the coup, firms including Monsanto and Rio Tinto, whose incursions into Paraguay had been restricted under Lugo, were quick to move in.
The other day I chatted with an older Paraguayan man named Luís who complained about the country’s endemic corruption and the reduction of politics to elite self-interest. Cartes is a narco, he said, and life was better under Stroessner. When I asked him a little while later about his plans for Sunday, he replied with a smile: ‘I’m voting for Cartes, señora.’