Sunday, September 26

Pandemic: The rise in coronavirus cases in Paraguay precipitates a political crisis | International

A man with a megaphone during the protests in the center of Asunción (Paraguay).
A man with a megaphone during the protests in the center of Asunción (Paraguay).Santi Carneri / THE COUNTRY

At the beginning of March, Elena had to take her diabetic father with symptoms of COVID-19 to a public hospital. She had to discard the private clinic, as she wished, because prior to admission they asked her for a deposit of 30 million guaranies to enter, about $ 4,900. “You betrayed me, you brought me here, they are going to kill me in this place,” his father told him when he arrived. “And all their fears came true,” laments Elena, who gives a fictitious name for fear of retaliation. “We entered the urgency. They separated me from him and gave me the phone number of a pharmacy to buy the things they were going to ask me for, ”he says. At the hospital they asked for medicines, in addition to things as basic as cotton, tape or gauze. Elena’s family has spent approximately 15 million guaraníes that they have had to borrow.

“You know how I feel? I am very insecure, I am afraid of going to a public hospital, because of the feeling that they do everything wrong, that only if you have money will they treat you, if not, die ”, says Elena. She and the rest of her family were also infected with covid-19, and although they are fine, they fear having to take care of another patient at any time. This Sunday they have organized a “pollada” to sell food and raise funds to pay for his father’s treatment, a custom as Paraguayan as drinking cold mate.

The health problems of Elena’s family are no exception in Paraguay: seven out of ten Paraguayans earn less than the minimum wage of two million guaranies ($ 285) and 46% of the population lives from irregular jobs without social security. This is a long-standing reality, but the worsening crisis resulting from the pandemic has ended the patience of many.

“In the case of health and social protection, the crisis came from before,” says Verónica Serafini Geoghegan, economist at the Center for Analysis and Dissemination of the Paraguayan Economy (Cadep), “But with the pandemic the problems were exacerbated. Corruption and the absence of penalties were added ”. “Then there are the historical inequalities and privileges. According to the Latinobarómetro, 87% of Paraguayans believe that they govern for the powerful. The poor quality of life, privileges for the few, corruption and mistrust are factors that hinder any possibility of political legitimacy. And in a context of extreme vulnerability due to covid-19, the situation took an unexpected but predictable turn, ”Serafini details.

In the last two weeks, Paraguay has experienced unprecedented moments: an almost spontaneous concentration of 10,000 protesters, daily protests, escraches and demonstrations even in front of the house of President Mario Abdo Benítez and other politicians in the capital. Amid the social tension, there was a failed impeachment attempt against Abdo Benítez, which ended with the headquarters of the ruling Colorado Party in flames.

The anger and protests were not only against the president, son of the private secretary of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner, but against his entire party. The Republican National Association (ANR) o The Colorado Party, the formation that cemented the longest dictatorship in Latin America (1954-1989), has controlled all the powers of the State since the beginning of democracy, except between 2008 and 2012 when the opposition ruled.

Pulse in the Colorado Party

The government of Abdo Benítez already had a crisis that almost cost him a parliamentary trial. It was in July 2019, for secretly negotiating with the Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro the renewal of the treaty that governs Itaipu, the dam with the highest production in the world, which in 2023 must be updated. When the opposition denounced the secret negotiations, part of the Colorado Party itself confronted Abdo Benítez, who represents the more traditional wing. It was the Honor Colorado movement, of former president Horacio Cartes, a businessman on the border with Brazil who owns the largest corporation in the country, the Cartes Group – which includes banking, media, land for livestock, beverages, tobacco, advertising. . According to the first leaks of WikileaksBefore becoming president, Cartes was closely investigated and spied on by the CIA, DEA and the FBI for alleged money laundering.

The crisis over Itaipu, emblem of the country, outraged both the opposition and the nationalist followers of Cartes, who accused the president of being a “surrender” with Brazil for negotiating clauses that could harm Paraguay in the distribution of energy. Abdo Benítez finally dodged impeachment after negotiating with Honor Colorado and was tied for the future. This is how the current crisis was reached, with the constant threat from the spokespersons of Honor Colorado that they can dismiss him whenever they want. “We are not going to stop until he resigns, we protest here because he is a false president, the one who commands is Cartes and continues to give orders,” says 18-year-old Melisa Riveros, who came from the outskirts of Asunción to protest in front of the immense mansion de Cartes, located on a main avenue of the city.

The health crisis, meanwhile, does not give truce. The president has already changed his Minister of Health, while the vaccines arrive by dropper. Paraguay has only received 60,000 vaccines against covid-19, for a population of seven million people and when the peak of the pandemic worsens. Outside of the health personnel, only a few Paraguayans living abroad have managed to get vaccinated.

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