Cartes Wins Paraguay’s Presidency, Despite Alleged Criminal Links

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Paraguay’s presidential elections saw a comfortable win for Horacio Cartes, a business magnate whose questionable past could spell trouble for this South American nation, and the regional fight against organized crime.

Cartes’ Colorado Party, which had ruled Paraguay for 60 years before 2008, won 46 percent of the vote compared to 37 percent won by the its opposition, the Liberal Party.

Cartes will take office in August for a five-year term that will mark a return to democratically-elected rule in Paraguay. Fernando Lugo, the leftist coalition candidate who won in 2008, was impeached last June and replaced by the Liberal Party’s Federico Franco, in what Lugo, and some neighboring nations, labelled a coup.

Various allegations of voting fraud emerged during the run-up to the election weekend, primarily of vote buying, a practice with a long history in Paraguay. A Colorado Party senator was suspended after being filmed purportedly trying to buy votes.

InSight Crime Analysis

Cartes’ election is an unsurprising but troubling development in Paraguay, the world’s number two producer of marijuana and a transit nation for cocaine headed to Brazil, Argentina and onto Europe.

The Colorado Party leader, whose portfolio of businesses includes one of Paraguay’s biggest banks and a leading cigarette manufacturer, has a long and detailed history of alleged ties to criminal groups. Cartes served jail time in the 1980s for fraud, has been charged since with various crimes including murder as well as gold smuggling, drug trafficking and most frequently, money laundering.

In recent years Paraguay has become increasingly important in the international drugs trade, with Bolivian and Peruvian cocaine passing through on its way to the major Latin American markets of Brazil and Argentina, and also on to Europe. It is South America’s largest marijuana producer, with an estimated 80 percent of production headed to Brazil, while the town of Ciudad del Este, on the Brazilian border, is a major smuggling hub for contraband of various kinds.

Adding to the country’s woes is endemic corruption, with Paraguay ranked 150 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index.  There is also the presence of a small but committed guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army.

If the allegations against Cartes are true, international criminal groups managing large-scale operations in one of the most corrupt nations in the world may now have a potential friend in the country’s highest office.   

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