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Latam Brief: Paraguayans head to polls (April 28, 2023)

Latin America Daily Briefing: This photo file combo shows from left, Santiago Pena, presidential candidate of the Colorado ruling party during a political rally in Asuncion, Paraguay, April 18, 2023, and opponent Efrain Alegre, coalition presidential candidate, during his closing campaign rally in Asuncion, Paraguay, April 27, 2023. The opposition coalition will seek to unseat South America's longest-ruling party Sunday, April 30th, in the country's general election.
This photo file combo shows from left, Santiago Pena, presidential candidate of the Colorado ruling party during a political rally in Asuncion, Paraguay, April 18, 2023, and opponent Efrain Alegre, coalition presidential candidate, during his closing campaign rally in Asuncion, Paraguay, April 27, 2023. The opposition coalition will seek to unseat South America’s longest-ruling party Sunday, April 30th, in the country’s general election.

Paraguayans will vote in general elections on Sunday — and an opposition coalition has a fighting chance to wrest power from the Colorado Party that has dominated the country’s politics for most of the past 75 years.

Colorado Party candidate Santiago Peña faces off against center-left candidate Efraín Alegre, who heads Coalition for a New Paraguay, which includes his own Liberal Party. Polling shows the two cadidates neck-to-neck, with Alegre slightly in the lead. (AFPAS/COA)

It is Alegre’s third presidential run, but this time he represents a broad coalition that includes a mix of political parties calling change and an end to Colorado’s reign, reports the Associated Press.

Paraguay’s elections are determined in a single round, and the last presidential election was won by a margin of just four percentage points. Turnout will be a major factor.

The Colorado Party, under the patronage of former President Horacio Cartés, has dominated Paraguayan politics since the country’s return to democracy 35 years ago. But U.S. sanctions against Cartés in January, for “rampant corruption that undermines democratic institutions” and alleged links to Hezbollah, impacted the Colorado Party’s electoral financing, reports the Guardian.

Alegre has floated the possibility of changing allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing, in order to favor the country’s cattle and soy exports — indeed, the pressure to do so is mainly stemming from the country’s powerful agricultural lobby. (Reuters)

Alegre challenged Taiwan to better reward Paraguay, the only country in South America that recognizes it as a sovereign state. (Quartz)

But the issue has little resonance for voters more concerned with corruption and poverty. Crime, as well as deficiencies in the health and education systems that worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, are also central voter concerns.

Anti-system right-wing candidate Paraguayo “Payo” Cubas is third in polls, and has capitalized widespread discontent with state institutions and traditional parties. (ReutersAFPReuters)

All the seats in Paraguay’s bicameral congress, 17 governorships, and all state assembly seats are also up for grabs.

More Paraguay

  • InSight Crime dissects the leading candidates’ promises on corruption and organized crime.

Migration

  • The U.S. announced it will open immigration processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala — part of an effort to curb human smuggling and illegal crossings at the U.S. southern border, reports the Washington Post. Illegal crossings, which are already near record levels, are expected to surge next month when the Biden administration lifts pandemic-era border controls.

Haiti

  • Two local Haitian journalists were killed in recent weeks, victims of the country’s ongoing security crisis, reports the Associated Press. Ricot Jean, who worked for Radio-Tele Evolution Inter was found dead on Tuesday, a day after he was reportedly kidnapped by men wearing police uniforms. And radio reporter Dumesky Kersaint was fatally shot in mid-April, reportedly by a stray bullet. (Guardian)

Ecuador

  • Ecuador declared members of organized crime groups to be terrorists, yesterday — the move the military to pursue them with greater freedom, reports AFP.

Venezuela

  • This week’s Bogotá Summit on Venezuela did not reach meaningful concrete conclusions. But “revealed at least two changes in the diplomatic landscape,” writes Catherine Osborn in the Latin America Brief. “Now, neighboring Colombia is taking a front seat in trying to move negotiations forward. And the United States made its clearest-ever public statement saying that it was open to gradually lifting sanctions on Caracas if unspecified electoral guarantees were met.”

  • It is important for elections, hypothetically scheduled for next year, be held with the correct guarantees, if Venezuela is to avoid “another six-year term mired in a deep political conflict,” WOLA head Carolina Jimenez told Al Jazeera. “We have to fight to turn these elections into an opportunity and not a continuation of the crisis.”

  • Chevron Corp has stepped up sales of Venezuelan crude oil to rival U.S. refiners, reports Reuters.

Regional Relations

  • A new Wilson Center report on lithium in the region looks at “how U.S.-China competition is reflected in the scramble for lithium in South America, how opposition to lithium mining in local communities could curtail production, and how to improve regulations regarding water use to ensure a sustainable lithium industry in the region.”

  • Hezbollah’s participation in the international cocaine trade is primarily through Venezuela — a channel which became available after Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chávez strengthened bilateral ties in the early 2000s — and through the Paraguay-Brazil-Argentina tri-border area — based on its longstanding ties to criminal networks there, according to Small Wars Journal. “These two routes link South American production with European consumers going through Syria and Lebanon, while funding Hezbollah’s terrorist activities,” write Mahmut Cengiz and Camilo Pardo-Herrera.

  • China’s advances in Latin America follow “decades of Western indifference toward the region, the withdrawal of the U.S. from the multilateral order, and ambiguous U.S. foreign policy that reflects the country’s loss of self-confidence abroad,” argues Julio Guzmán in Time Magazine.

Brazil

  • “A feminist foreign policy would not only legitimize the Brazilian government’s gender parity initiatives—it would expand its trade horizons, benefitting the entire economy,” argue a Brazilian group of diplomats in Americas Quarterly.

  • A Brazilian judge suspended the messaging app Telegram throughout the country. The order responded to a request by police investigating neo-Nazi groups that they say have used the platform to incite school attacks, reports the New York Times.

Argentina

  • Argentina’s main political coalitions — the ruling Frente de Todos and the opposition Juntos por el Cambio — haven’t determined their candidates ahead of October’s presidential election, and voter preferences are fragmented, reports Reuters. Outsider libertarian candidate Javier Milei, though third in polls, is shaping up to be a significant contender.

  • The Argentine government’s efforts to rein in peso volatility are failing, raising the specter of devaluation in an election year, reports Bloomberg.

Uruguay

  • Uruguay’s senate passed a pension reform that raises the retirement age from 60 to 65. (Infobae)

Jamaica

  • Jamaica’s Constitutional Reform Committee is working on a draft constitution — and has announced that a bill will be presented to parliament next month, part of Jamaica’s transition to a republic. But the recent announcement that the committee had held six closed-door meetings have raised hackles among some sectors of civil society, who denounce a lack of transparency in the process — Just Caribbean Updates

Mexico

  • “Mexico City is generally regarded as something of a safe haven from the brutal drug-related violence that is present in so many of Mexico’s states. But in recent years, violence in the capital has been increasing as criminal groups vie for more control of the international airport, drug trafficking routes, and local consumption markets,” reports Vice.

Regional

  • The second meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Escazú Agreement concluded last week in Buenos Aires. Participants elected the first seven members of the Committee to Support Implementation and Compliance of the treaty, tasked with aiding member countries with understanding and implementing the agreement on a local level — Just Caribbean Updates

Chile

  • Ariel Dorfman explores Chilean President Gabriel Boric’s passion for poetry, and how his reading has influenced his governance — Washington Post

Jordana Timerman/Latin America Daily Briefing

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