Destination Today

The run up to the 2018 elections was marred by an attempt by Horacio Cartes to change the constitutional guarantee of single-term presidencies – in place since the dictatorship – in order to stand again for election. The proposal was met with violent demonstrations in the capital. Street protests saw leading Liberal candidate Efraín Alegre shot with rubber bullets, a young Liberal campaigner shot dead by police in the party offices under mysterious circumstances, and the congress building stormed and burned by protestors.

Though Cartes eventually dropped the proposal, his chosen candidate for the Colorado pre-candidacy, the young and virtually unknown economist Santiago Peña, was widely viewed as a puppet. Peña was beaten comfortably in the Colorado internal elections by Mario Abdo Benítez (Marito), son of Stroessner's most trusted companion of the same name. In April 2018, Marito then beat Efraín Alegre to the presidency in one of the closest-fought elections in Paraguayan history, tainted by the usual accusations of electoral fraud.

Marito inherits a country that has ridden a economic boom for the last decade, but which has failed to translate economic success into sustained social development. The economy is healthy, even while some other countries in the region have plunged into crisis, and the guaraní currency has been strong and stable since the early noughties, though the cost of living has risen exponentially over the same period. Paraguay is still a reasonably cheap country to visit for foreigners, but first-time visitors may find costs to be higher than they had expected.

Paraguay is still a country split along class lines, with the most wealthy reluctant to share the spoils with the impoverished majority. Paraguayan towns often ooze modernity, but new developments generally cater for the rich while the needs of the rural poor are ignored. Indigenous rights, campesino land claims and environmental issues all take a back seat to the free-market ethos which dominates the Paraguayan political and social scene. Inequality continues to rise.

Environmentally Paraguay is facing crisis. The deforestation of the Chaco, the fastest-disappearing forest habitat on earth, continues apace. Tales of genetically engineered soybeans which can withstand the harsh Chaco climate are exciting the farming community, but horrifying conservationists, who see it as a potential nail in the coffin of this unique habitat. The lack of priority given to environmental issues were highlighted in proposals during 2015 to blow up the highest point in the Chaco, Cerro León, officially for rock for road-paving, but perhaps for the uranium the cerro is rumored to contain. Quite apart from being the centerpoint of Parque Nacional Defensores del Chaco, the mountain is also of religious significance to the Guaraní tribes in the area and the last stronghold of the endangered Chaco peccary. The disregard for environmental law was greeted with horror by the public, who managed to stop the plans following an outcry and demonstrations, but then-president Cartes showed little sympathy for public concerns, joking that the government would put the peccary 'in a cage' to protect it.