Foreign Policy Blogs

Cartes prepares Paraguay potential


Paraguay has long been one of the poorest, least developed and most isolated countries in Latin America, dating back from when the country gained independence from Spain in 1811.

The landlocked nation is expected to grow by 10 percent this year – due in large part to soy and beef exports – but nearly a third of its people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

It has been long ignored and bypassed by many businesses and development, even though it is a founding member of the Mercado Común del Sur. But as the 21st century strides wobbly into its uncertain second decade, Paraguay has the potential to be the next leader in a multitude of areas.

And that may depend heavily on its next leader.

This is where Paraguay finds itself today, as a new president, Horacio Cartes, prepares to take office on Thursday. Just over a year since President Fernando Lugo – who ended the Colorado Party ‘s 61-year hold on the presidency – was impeached and removed from office, Cartes was selected by voters to bring Paraguay somewhat back to a stable democracy — with hope and caution and curiosity wrapped up in their next president.

As the  self-proclaimed “heart of South America” Paraguay’s potential as an economic partner and the hidden gateway to South America is untapped. As a tourist discovery, it is unspoiled and inviting. As a new leader for regional affairs, it is ready.

Passed over again and agan, Paraguay is prime for the right partners and vision, its officials say. And as anyone who has worked in an orchard or vineyard knows, the lowest hanging fruit is not always the sweetest or best tasting. That is Paraguay’s pivitol opportunity today.

Cartes, 56, is from the old Colorado party, but touts himself as a fresh political face. He had never run for office and only registered to vote a few years ago. Yet his face is well known in the nation, where he owns Paraguay’s largest cigarette manufacturer, as well as beverage, banking, agricultural, transportation and trading interests, and a large football club in Asunción. His father was Cessna’s representative in Paraguay and Cartes studied aeronautical engineering in the United States, where he briefly worked for Cessna in Oklahoma and Kansas.

His campaign posters promised a new path and the general outlines offered in the campaign talked ‘change’ and priorities of fighting corruption, upgrading regional infrastructures, creating jobs, attracting foreign investment and business-friendly economic policies, making agriculture more vibrant through increased efficiency and subsequent increased exports, reestablishing the nation in Mercado Común del Sur and boosting support to small and medium business.

The visionaries of the Paraguay potential are also arguing for forward-thinking environmental policies and actions, becoming a strong partner in drug enforcement and regional cooperation, pro-active in anti-corruption measures, and as an example of a democracy reflective of individual aspirations and universal rights.

That is a huge agenda for any country.

Guiding Cartes’s transition into office, and expected to be a senior advisor, is Leila Rachid Lichi who has an impeccable diplomatic career. She has been Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Acting Director of the Diplomatic and Consular Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has been Paraguay’s ambassador to numerous countries, including the United States. She has already served one term as foreign minister

Rachid Lichi has been one of those visionaries for years and knows the importance of getting the world to see the Paraguay potential and have them come ready to invest and be involved.

“We are not a country that handles its foreign policy agenda haphazardly. Foreign policy, in a globalized and very competitive world, is a battle of economic interests on various levels. Paraguay is not immune to that reality and as agriculture is the basis of our economy, its fundamental concentration in negotiations is the issue of agricultural subsidies of the more developed countries,” she said in the past.

“Paraguay has strong economic relations within the Mercosur bloc, in addition to having markets that are open towards the United States and Europe,” she also said. “Strengthening those ties of international cooperation will be key to establishing the country’s position economically and politically.”

Yet, to paraphase, one cannot put all one’s soybeans in one basket.  Diversification and expansion – with an eye to business from and with the U.S. and select targets globally – is a determing factor.

Cartes has won back some diplomatic support that was lost when Lugo was removed from office in 2012. There is to be strong diplomatic representation at his inauguration cermemony, meeting one his first goals.

That is a good step, but just one step – a low-hanging fruit.  A five-year term can pass quickly. Like a meander through Paraguay’s Ybycui, there is the potential for hidden gems of waterfalls, natue, wildlife and huge colorful butterflies. The opportunity is fleeting, so Cartes and Parguay must walk assuredly. You have to climb and reach for the tastier fruit and need to do so before it spoils.


(Photo credit: MercoPress/South Atlantic News Agency)



Tom Squitieri

Tom Squitieri has spent more than three decades as a journalist, reporting overseas for the Lowell (Mass.) Sun, the Boston Herald and USA TODAY. He won three Overseas Press Club awards and three White House Correspondents' Association awards for his reporting from Haiti, Bosnia, and Burundi. He is a newly-elected board member of the Overseas Press Club.

In academics, Squitieri was invited to create and then teach a unique college course that combines journalism, public affairs, ethics, philosophy, current affairs and war zone survival skills into a practical application to broaden thinking and day-to-day success. The class "Your 15 Minutes: Navigating the Checkpoints in Life" has a waiting list each year.

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in western Pennsylvania, Squitieri has been on all seven continents and in dozens of places he intends to keep secret.