The Republic of Paraguay is a small, sparsely populated country nestled between Argentina and Brazil. A mostly agrarian society, its main sources of wealth are soy, beef, and Itaipu, the world’s second-largest hydroelectric dam, co-owned with Brazil. Paraguay has been a more-or-less functioning democracy since 1989, when General Alfredo Stroessner, who ran the country as a dictator for more than thirty years, was finally overthrown. But Stroessner’s Colorado Party, whose reign preceded him, is still in power all these years later. Since 1989, the party has won every presidential contest except one. It is a clientelist institution that relies on a disciplined base of civil servants and rural and small-town voters. The opposition, an ideologically diverse coalition led by the Liberal Party, blames the country’s systemic corruption, lack of social progress, and grotesque inequality on the Colorado Party’s almost unassailable dominance. Until last summer, it seemed all but certain that the “Colorados” would win the upcoming presidential election on April 30.
That was before Marc Ostfield, the American ambassador to Paraguay, made a big announcement: two Colorados, Horacio Cartes and Hugo Velázquez, were now officially designated as “significantly corrupt” by the U.S. government. Velázquez is the current vice president of Paraguay. Cartes, one of the most powerful men in Paraguay, is the owner of a conglomerate of twenty-five companies, which includes a tobacco importer, media outlets, and a supermarket chain. President from 2013 to 2018, he is widely believed to be a major influence in the administration of Mario Abdo Benítez, his successor. (Paraguay’s constitution forbids presidents from running for reelection.)
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