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Santiago Peña is elected the new president of Paraguay


Santiago Peña was elected president of Paraguay by 43% of the valid votes. The country’s electoral system is based on a singular round of voting.

On Sunday the 30th of April 2023, Paraguayans went to the ballot boxes to decide who would be their country’s next chief of the Executive Power. Santiago Peña, from the Colorado Party, was chosen for the position.

With his inauguration dated in August this year, Peña had already been indicated as one of the main representatives of the Colorado Party, a center-right wing political body.

Since 1976, the political group has only lost presidential elections once, in 2008, when the former catholic bishop Fernando Lugo was elected.

Lugo was dismissed by Paraguay’s Senate in 2012, through an impeachment process that lasted no much longer than 24 hours and was considered legitimate by the country’s Superior Electoral Court, however illegitimate by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, what provoked a certain isolationism of the country.


The new President’s profile: an X-Ray

Santiago Peña Palacios is currently 44 years old. He is an economist, and a Master of Public Administration at Columbia University, in the United States.

Professionally, has worked in leadership positions at Paraguay’s Central Bank and at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where allocated to the African Department.

The elected president has a technocrat profile, with vast and consolidated recognition in the Economic Theory field, having also taught the disciplines of “Economic Theory” and “Financial Theory” at the Catholic University of Asuncion (UCA), his alma mater.

According to his professional profile, Santi, as he is known, has also had a brief experience in the private sector, during which he worked for the Basa Bank.

His name became politically well-known from 2012, when invited by the former president Horácio Cartes – considered his political godfather – to become Minister of Finance.

He remained in office until 2017, same year in which he ran, without success, for internal elections of the Colorado Party.

As a campaign promise, Peña affirmed to be dedicated to offering more “money in the pocket” of Paraguayans through employment rising programs, and higher investment in PETROPAR (Petróleos Paraguayos), equivalent to the Brazilian PETROBRAS.

This subject is mightily relevant for the economy of a country that, as well as a dependent on soybean, meat and electricity exportation, has only grown 0.2% in 2022, with an 8.1% a year inflation rate.

When celebrating the triumph in assuming the presidency, Santiago Peña appealed for union and consensus as ways to guarantee stability for the country.


Controversies involving Santiago Peña’s name

As previously mentioned, the elected president is regarded as a political Godson of the former leader Horacio Cartes, a businessman in the tobacco industry who governed the country from 2013 to 2018.

The former president, who was accused of “significant acts of corruption” and was vetoed entrance in the United States of America, would have obstructed a large international investigation over transnational crimes in order to protect himself and his partners from possible political damage. One of these crimes would have been a case of money laundering in the scope of the Brazilian Lava Jato operation.

Cartes has never pleaded guilty of such accusations. On the contrary, he firmly denies them and declares to be facing political persecution. In addition, according to his defense team, the United States’ department of State’s allegations would have been based on political lobby by internal opposition members.

Despite the accusations, Cartes was able to minimally please the American government during his mandate by transferring the Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem. The decision was reverted by his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, who is from an opposite end of the Colorado Party.

Even indirectly, the allegations that Cartes would have any connection to corruption schemes can be an obstacle for Santiago Peña to develop stronger connections with Joe Biden, president of the United States.

Regarding international relations, Santi affirms to not have plans of revising the partnership Paraguay maintains with Taiwan.

It is relevant to point out this is a sensitive matter, since the Chinese government, as well as many international organizations, sees Taiwan as an inalienable part of China.

As a matter of fact, this positioning can be difficult to maintain both internally, considering that Paraguayan producers aim for the People’s Republic of China to expand their agricultural businesses, and externally. The results for such (possible) politics are yet to be defined.


The Brazil-Paraguay relations

The Paraguayan external politics are closely related to the internal politics, which means that their relations with Brazil – an important bilateral partner – are influenced by the political tensions surrounding the neighbor’s internal politics. Moreover, the bilateral relations between the two countries have shown to become gradually stronger throughout time.

In a contemporary manner, both countries have become closely related during the so called the Latin-American “Pink Wave”, movement through which leftist governments were known to ascend in Latin America, such as the Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva’s, in Brazil, who remained in office from 2003 to 2011, and the former catholic bishop Fernando Lugo’s, who led Paraguay from 2008 to 2012, when dismissed through an impeachment process.

In May 2022, on the occasion of an attack resulting in death of the former mayor of Juan Pedro Caballero (Paraguayan municipality that borders Dourados, on the Brazilian side), José Carlos Acevedo, the answers, in terms of cooperation between both countries, were prompt and efficient.

Paraguay and Brazil are relevant bilateral commercial partners and maintain numerous agreements such as the Itaipu Binacional maintenance.


Internal protests

Similarly to Brazil, there was also a part of the citizens who did not feel represented by the electoral ballots’ result. Since the result, announced on April 30th, supporters of the 3rd most voted candidate, (Paraguayo) Payo Cubas, have been marching the streets under the argument of electoral fraud.

Cubas, seen as a “Bolsonaro wannabe”, has been rising up his supporters against the elected president and, through political tactics, using the protests as an instrument to his favor.

Cubas has been involved in, at least, polemical situations such as throwing water at a colleague during a so called Cámara Alta session in the country’s Senate, thus ended up dismissed from his Senator position.

Despite being mostly politically aligned to the right-wing, Cubas has spoken about legalizing marijuana in Paraguay and defended an agrarian reform, as reminded Professor Pedro Feliú Ribeiro from the Institute of International Relations of the University of São Paulo (IRI-USP), during his interview to the BBC.

Up to this moment, the Paraguayan Attorney’s Office has opened investigations to identify violent protesting and their actors.

There are no indications of fraud in the Paraguayan elections.

Paraguay’s electoral system utilizes electronic ballots, with printed reports.


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