2022 and the risk of an exasperating déjà vu

If 2020 said goodbye with the Covid-19 pandemic unleashing chaos in the world, starkly showing institutional weaknesses with rampant corruption, 2021 opened with hope of the vaccine that predicted a slow recovery of normal life.

Estela Ruíz Díaz Por Estela Ruíz Díaz

Another year goes by without the coronavirus having disappeared and with the sad realization of inequality at all levels: hoarding of vaccines by the richest countries that slowed down the equitable distribution of vaccines in the world and the economic-social impact that hit the most vulnerable ones. As never before, the role of the State was understood and capitalism as an economic system was devalued.

Paraguay says goodbye to 2021 with less than half of the population vaccinated (40%) and almost 17,000 deaths.

In economic matters, it closes a year with a discreet recovery and growth forecasts estimated at 4%, but with a worrying public debt (35% of GDP) and social precariousness as a consequence of the pandemic.

In politics, electoralism has taken over the stage, especially the Colorado Party, which impacts the government's progress with the consequent paralysis of any long-term project. It is a time of give and take, further weakening the management of Mario Abdo Benítez, who will require the vote of Honor Colorado for any government plan, especially public works, on which he focused his entire administration.

A complicated scenario for a purely electoral 2022 in the midst of a pandemic that does not stop, with an exhausted and still confused society and that impacts all aspects of life.

ANR. In the ruling party, the cards are already dealt. In the presidential race, two leading movements/figures stand out: the cartismo (Honor Colorado) versus the ruling movement (Añeteté). Horacio Cartes repeats his bet with Santiago Peña as presidential candidate and Vice President Hugo Velázquez is running for Añeteté. Both have their strengths, but their weaknesses stand out more.

Peña’s Achilles heel is his fragility and the excessive prominence of Cartes, lord and master of Honor Colorado. The former minister did not take advantage of these years to become an independent leader and for convenience or impossibility ratified his political and economic dependence on Cartes. In other words, the strength of Cartes' fortune, who can solve everything with his wallet, weakens his figure, leaving him in the background.

But he also has other problems. He pretends to radiate his youth as the opposite of the colorado vices, the expert who will take the country to another level. But he can't do it. He cannot even hold an anti-corruption speech because Cartes, apart from bearing the González Daher stigma, whose execrable businesses he protected while he was president of the Republic, continues to do so with questioned administrations, such as that of the governors of Central and Amambay, the mayor of Asunción and others who seek his shelter because he manages the Public Ministry and part of the Justice system. The young, former finance minister's aura that shone in 2017 devalued over time. Will he be able to separate his candidacy from the dead weight of an authoritarian leadership, whose main characteristic is to buy everything in his path?

Velázquez's candidacy has several flanks that could be exploited by the cartismo, but it cannot. On the one hand, the vice president represents the most traditional side of the colorado culture based on prebendarism and clientelism. The patrimonial State in its maximum expression. One of the main reasons for the defeat of the cartismo in 2017 was because it cut the umbilical cord of the grassroots leadership with the sweetness of the State. If the victory of Marito meant the retaking of power by the more traditional bases, now that they are in charge of the administration, why would they return with Cartes? This is a flank that can be attacked in the presidential campaign, but Peña cannot use this argument against Velázquez because in the ANR, corruption is not a bad word and impunity is a symbol of power.

Velázquez has a dark past and a fortune that he could not be able to justify before an impartial court, but Peña’s hands are tied to attack him because his movement is not exempt from similar characters. That is, neither of them can criticize the corruption of the other.

In addition, the vice president carries the heavy cross of the Government. Until today, no candidate from the ruling movement has won the republican primaries. Will he be able to break that spell?

Perhaps due to the weakness of his candidate, Cartes agreed to be a candidate for president of the ANR, which will be elected simultaneously with the primaries. In this way, he will enter the campaign in the first person and will be the main figure to dispute the stage with Velázquez with his economic and media power. It remains to be seen whether Mario Abdo will accept to be a candidate for the ANR as well. The question is whether he will make the same mistake as Nicanor Duarte Frutos, who by wanting to monopolize positions, caused the historic colorado defeat in 2008.

For all this there are no clear proposals or forceful speeches on either side, but mere personal attacks. At least in 2017 the confrontation was authoritarianism versus institutionality. Today the debate is who is "more colorado" with all the non-institutional burden that implies; the discourse has been reduced to satisfy only republican demands.

There are no surprises or disruptive candidates.

The colorado primary is an exasperating déjà vu.

OPPOSITION. Concertation is the word that is repeated as a mantra, as if reiteration would work the miracle of unity in diversity. The table of opposition parties was agitated days ago with the incorporation of Patria Querida, rejected outright by progressive sectors because "it is the extreme right" and "a satellite of cartismo."

The year closes with this controversy, but the calendar is pressing, and they will have to resolve their conflicts with a lot of pragmatism.

The menu of candidates is wide, but nothing is defined. Efraín Alegre has a strong influence on the presidents' table, but his weakness is the unmanageable liberal internal dispute that weighs down any attempt of agreement. Blas Llano came out with the candidacy of the unknown governor of Cordillera, Hugo Fleitas, whom he seeks to strengthen with deputy Carlos Rejala as a running mate. The other strong figure is the encuentrista deputy Kattya González who will define in February whether to run or not. There are other proposals that sound more like bargaining chips such as those of Sixto Pereira, of Frente Guasu, or the deputy Sebastián Villarejo, of PPQ. Other candidacies such as the ones of Payo Cubas and Foreign Affairs Minister Euclides Acevedo are also fluttering around, but the sensation is that none of them satisfy people, and the appearance of a miraculous candidacy that awakens hopes and moves wills is awaited.

Beyond the agitated electoral environment, Paraguay closes another year without learning lessons. In terms of changes, 2021 should have been at least the year of the push for health system reform as a result of the pandemic, taking advantage of the high social consensus on the need to improve public health.

But once again, the country is a victim of the paralyzing and harmful incapacity of the ruling class, which is not capable of articulating minimum actions that benefit the population. A political class that is only capable of offering an exchange of personal insults as empty proposals from those who intend to continue plundering the nation.

Although next year will be a déjà vu of the old and repeated political vices and the pandemic will continue to set the pace of the world, may 2022 be a restorative time and may the articulated population be the one to set the course for better times.


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