Paraguay at the crossroads – Sylvia Colombo

The coronavirus pandemic is Paraguay’s new problem. And, with the arrival of the Brazilian variant, a giant problem. The country even managed to contain the contagion curve last year, but now it is crushed by the delay in purchasing vaccines and the poor preparation of its health system. Across the country, there are just over 400 ICU beds, including private and public. Insufficient for a population of 7 million inhabitants.

Everyone thought it was beautiful to see Paraguayans in the streets defending their basic and legitimate right to health, in a series of protests that started a week ago and continue. What does not seem to have a way out for the neighbor of Brazil is the corruption which existed before and which spares almost no one in the current political establishment. The company is an orphan. There is no one to ask for help. And the Colorado party, almost hegemonic in Paraguay today, although divided into internal currents, cares about nothing other than its internal elections in mid-year and the succession of fragile Abdo Benítez in 2023.

This is if the representative reaches 2023 …

What we have seen in Paraguay in recent days are two completely different movements, although they are deeply interconnected. One was the demonstration in the streets. First the middle class left, then the young university students. On the third day, after the group of violent people who provoked clashes last Friday (5), the population that was seen wandering in the center of Asunción mixed families, humble, young people, while peasants and demonstrators from the country began. to arrive in the interior, where the scarcity of resources for health is even greater.

It is impossible not to sympathize with the simple claim of the fundamental right of access to health.

But the second scenario causes discouragement. On the stage of power, behind the scenes of Congress, there is a palatial debate in which the pandemic appears as a mere detail, almost an unmentioned word. Politicians, analysts and “operators” are debating only one thing: how to divide power and who takes the reins of the Colorado party, now hegemonic in the country, although it contains different internal currents.

There are basically three. One, that of Abdo Benítez, who emerged with his election in 2018 as an attempt by the Colorado party’s old guard to return to power. This old guard, linked to the great peasants and to the Church, is the one that supports the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). Marito failed in management, nearly fell into the Itaipú episode in 2019, and was popularly demoralized for being so resigned to being a puppet of others with more power.

The other is that of Horacio Cartes, the richest businessman in Paraguay, whose fortune includes legal and illegal businesses (banks, cigarette factories, soybeans, pharmaceuticals and contraband). Cartes on the one hand is well regarded by the colorados because it brought money to the party to finance campaigns and retain members. On the other hand, he is still an outsider to the party, someone so little interested in politics that he won his first electoral title when he decided to run for president.

The third force among the colorados is relatively new, but uses the same tools as in the past. This is Hugo Velázquez, vice-president of Abdo Benítez. His power has fallen under the shadow of Cartes, to whom he was once close, but who now presents himself as an internal opponent. In fact, Velázquez is trying to please both parties, as his already stated intention is to run alone in 2023. Velázquez, who is a lawyer and rare horse collector, is accused of corruption while he was a prosecutor in the department of ‘Alto Paraná border with Brazil. He is under investigation for his links to drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling.

Watching what’s going on in Asunción these days is like watching two simultaneous and seemingly dissonant shows, in which one seems unrelated to the other. In the streets there is a legitimate popular demonstration, usually peaceful, of a society already tired of inequality, corruption and, now, threatened by a powerful virus. In the corridors of power, the pandemic loses by far a central issue for the intrigues and disputes of these old and new colonels of Colorado.

In this first round, democracy and the well-being of Paraguayans are lost, for whoever wins is an old “establishment” upon which accusations of so many illegal acts hang. However, what started with these protests may change the political and social scenario of the country, as demands and demands are still on the air and will become more urgent as the pandemic worsens.

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