Right-wing leader takes over as Paraguayan president

Mario Benitez, a staunch opponent of same sex marriage and legalizing abortion, is controversial for his family’s links to the regime of dictator Alfredo Stroessner

August 17, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch
The new president has to deal with divisions in his own party. Photo: Wikipedia

Mario Abdo Benitez of the conservative Colorado Party was sworn in as the 50th President of Paraguay on August 15, succeeding Horacio Cartes from the same party. The function was attended by several head of states like Michel Temer (Brazil), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Mauricio Macri (Argentina), Ivan Duque (Colombia), Tabare Vazquez (Uruguay) and Tsai Ing-wen (Taiwan).

The ceremony was marked by a bit of controversy as Horacio Cartes, who is also a senator, reportedly walked out in between. Cartes had attempted to amend the constitution which prevents an individual from seeking a second successive presidential term. However, he had to retreat and withdraw the proposal following protests within and outside parliament. The resentment against Cartes’ whimsical ways and his corruption is believed to have been a major reason for Benitez’s narrow 3% margin of victory over his immediate opponent.

Mario Benitez is said to be a staunch opponent of same sex marriage and legalizing abortion. He has vowed to reduce poverty, fight impunity and corruption, and continue the policies of his predecessor such as low taxation etc. Mario Benitez and his vice-presidential candidate, Hugo Velazquez, secured 48% of the total votes, ahead of Efrain Alegre (45%) of the Great Renewed National Alliance in the general elections held on April 22. Security, corruption and social issues were reportedly the major themes that dominated debates in the election campaign. The president has agreed to cooperate with the opposition as the ruling Colorado Party won only 17 of the 45 seats in the Senate and 42 out of the 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. He also has to deal with the challenge of divisions within his own party. Benitez entered politics in 2005 by associating with movements affiliated with the Colorado Party.

Mario Benitez has been criticised for his family’s allegiance to the erstwhile Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. His father, Mario Abdo Sr., was Stroessner’s private secretary. Even though he has occasionally denounced his family’s past link with the dictatorship of Stroessner and the human rights violations during that period, the track record of his party and the rise of the right-wing in countries such as Colombia, Argentina and Brazil has put progressive sections of the country and the continent on alert.