It seems like an impossible task for Paraguay to bury the legacy of Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship. Just every other election since 1946 — apart from the spell of former bishop Fernando Lugo (2008-2012), which ended in a parliamentary coup — Paraguayans chose on Sunday the Partido Colorado candidate Mario Abdo Benítez, the namesake of Stroessner’s former right-hand man.
Efraín Alegre and Leo Rubin, the Alianza Ganar candidates for president and vice president, respectively, were not successful. The duo embodied the same alliance, between Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico and Frente Guasú, that led Lugo to victory back in 2008. The two defeated candidates lost by just 3.7 percent, which marks the smallest margin since the country returned to democracy in 1989.
Rubin, a local journalist devoted to environmental protection and the defense of the indigenous, Hindu and vegetarian population, was well aware of the uphill battle involved in defeating a political powerhouse like Partido Colorado. It was in the name of this challenge that he called for the recreation of the alliance that was broken following the coup d’état.
He relied on a program whose contents differed significantly from the Colorados’ reactionary ideology, but that wasn’t enough. The majority of the voters chose to provide continuity to Horacio Cartes’ government, seduced by fast economic growth and heedless to the social inequity that came with it. This is evident in Asunción, with its elegant and rich neighborhoods flanked by slum dwellers with no public transport and regularly flooded by the Rio Paraguay.
Growth of 4 percent every year, mostly due to the increasing importance of soy and the overwhelming development of maquilas — a cheap refuge for Brazilians’ capital — has come at the cost of exponential growth in the foreign debt, which is part of Cartes’ legacy alongside inefficient health and education sectors, growing unemployment and widespread corruption. Military forces are apparently deployed to fight guerrilla fighters and drug trafficking but actually are devoted to smuggling, popular organizations and the repression of farmers instead.
As a consequence, it is no surprise that a third of the population of a region so rich in natural resources is hit by poverty, beginning with indigenous people and farmers, excluded from the agro-export model which has already destroyed 90 percent of the country’s woods. The same subjects had already been affected by the illegal land distribution carried on by Stroessner in favor of soldiers and the upper middle class, including Mario Abdo Benítez’s father. All of this totals about eight million hectares, approximately the 19 percent of the national soil, according to the report by Paraguay’s Truth and Justice Commission.