December 8, 2013
Paraguay’s new president takes office
Horacio Cartes vows to fight inequality, promises to strengthen international ties
ASUNCIÓN — Multimillionaire Horacio Cartes vowed to battle poverty yesterday as he assumed the presidency of Paraguay, one of the most unequal nations in South America and a place where his business dealings have made him a target of US criminal probes.
Wearing Paraguay’s red-white-and-blue presidential sash, the tobacco magnate said he intends “to win every battle in the war we’re declaring today against poverty in Paraguay.”
“I’m not in politics to make a career of it or become wealthier,” said Cartes, 57, who promised to strengthen Paraguay’s international ties and its commitment to human rights.
Cartes, whose term runs through August 2018, built a family fortune with two dozen companies that dominate industries from banking to tobacco to soft drinks to soccer, so much so that it will be difficult to make a move as president without generating complaints of conflicts of interest.
After opponents complained, Cartes said he transferred his ownership in all his companies. But his sister Sarah Cartes now runs Grupo Cartes, hardly the kind of blind trust created by Chile’s billionaire President Sebastián Piñera.
Cartes insists he sought the presidency to improve Paraguay’s economy, and has no criminal ties. “It doesn’t make sense that if I’m everything they say I am, there aren’t any charges against me,” Cartes said on his Facebook page. “I’m right here. If anyone has evidence, they should present it in court. If they want to beat me, do it legally, not like cowards spreading defamations.”
Cartes is also political neophyte who never voted for president before running for the office, and often faced accusations that his wealth was fed by money laundering, cigarette smuggling and drug trafficking.
Paraguayan voters overlooked these allegations, focusing on hopes that the boyish-looking businessman from the dominant Colorado Party can help the country benefit more from soy profits that are projected to boost the economy by 10 percent this year. He won April’s election with 46 percent support by promising to create many more jobs.
His elected predecessor, Fernando Lugo, also promised to combat poverty. Otherwise, the tobacco magnate is nothing like the sandal-wearing former bishop, who was impeached and ousted by Congress last year.
Lugo’s 2008 victory interrupted more than five decades of Colorado Party rule, which included the 35-year reign of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, but he lacked the money and votes to accomplish much.
Among those in attendance yesterday were also several presidents of Mercosur countries including Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, José Mujica of Uruguay, Sebastián Piñera of Chile, Ollanta Humala of Peru, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina.
Rafael Correa of Ecuador, did not attend the ceremony as a sign of protest that his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro was not invited.
According to the website of the newspaper ABC Color, President Cristina Fernández participated in the inauguration ceremony and received a loud boo when Cartes’ mentioned her in his speech and thanked her for her efforts to redirect the political relations between Paraguay and Argentina.
Before returning to Buenos Aires a bilateral meeting was held with the new president where the future of relations between the two countries was discussed.
It was not revealed whether the presidents had agreed on the conditions Asunción has demanded in order to return to Mercosur.
But the inauguration of the new president, elected in free elections last April, is expected to facilitate the return of that country to both international bodies.
The Argentine president, however, took the occasion to cede belongings and furniture of Cartes’ hero Francisco Solano López, which are currently in a museum in Entre Ríos, back to Paraguay.
A spray-painted banner, carried by some attendees read “CFK-Mujica Dilma-Get out!,” to protest the firm stance of their governments to suspend Paraguay from Mercosur and Unasur.
In his inaugural speech, the new president of Paraguay said that “we want closeness and solidarity among Paraguayans, and also crave the most fruitful relations with neighbouring countries and with all those who we maintain diplomatic relations with.”