Mario Abdo Benítez: "The Colorado Party has many lines of thought, but also a great vocation for power" | International

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President Mario Abdo Benítez (Asunción, 51 years old), receives EL PAIS two days before the elections this Sunday in Paraguay. He wears a white shirt ao po'í, a traditional Paraguayan fabric that means fine clothing in Guarani, the most widely spoken language in Paraguay. Stroll through the garden of the former home of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner, the direct boss of his father, the dictator's private secretary. The house, called Mburuvicha Roga, Casa del jefe in Guaraní, is a neighbor of the United States embassy and continues as the temporary residence of the head of government. In addition to police, military and advisors there are three rheas roaming the garden.

Calm and smiling, Abdo comments that he fears mosquitoes because of the dengue and chikungunya epidemics that plague this country with a hot, subtropical climate. In this interview, he reviews his five years in government and vindicates his own political identity as a Colorado Democrat. He says that he would like his party to win "but not with fraud", confirms his fight with former president Horacio Cartes and does not rule out that there is a "revanchist spirit" in his political enemies.

The president of Paraguay Mario Abdo in the garden of the presidential residence.Santi Carneri

Q. How did the US sanctions against former President Horacio Cartes affect the divisions in the Colorado Party?

R. The Colorado Party is a very large party that has the particularity of being the ruling party and the opposition at the same time. My movement led dissidence or an alternative proposal in the past, that is, I was a leader of the opposition party. So, the Colorado Party has many lines of thought, but it also has a great vocation for power. This great vocation is what allows us to work in an electoral process in a unified way, but marking our differences. The candidate who was from our movement [Arnoldo Wiens] is the one who campaigns [con Santiago Peña] and it is the one that conditions the non-presence of the president of the party [Horacio Cartes]which has been designated significantly corrupt [por EE UU]. Wiens was not at any event with Horacio Cartes, and that represents our line of thought.

Q. His Interior Minister, Arnaldo Giusso, said after charging Horacio Cartes with money laundering that he feared for his life. Do you fear for yours?

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R. No, not by my life. I think there may be a revengeful spirit, I will not deny it. They can try, as we Paraguayans say, to bill me. But I firmly believe in what we have advanced in terms of the construction of an independent justice. I have faith that the justice system will rise to the occasion. Many blame me for what is happening to him and they may try to take revenge, but that is part of the political fight and we are prepared.

Q. When Cartes tried to be re-elected in 2017, you, the son of the private secretary of the dictator Stroessner, shouted "no to the dictatorship." What reflection do you have on the historical memory of the repression?

R. I don't want to be either a defender or a critic. Out of respect for the pain of the people who suffered, I have to take double care of myself because of my family's background. My answer is that day that I was there in the square defending democracy against an authoritarian project. I will have been the only president who did not seek his re-election [prohibida en la Constitución] consistent with that fight. People know my commitment to freedom and democracy. And that, regardless of my family history, I built my own political identity where I defended democratic values.

Q. Efraín Alegre, the opposition candidate, said that if he wins he will review relations with China and Taiwan. What do you think?

R. I don't want to make a value judgment on what a candidate for president says. I can talk about the importance I attach to our relationship with Taiwan. First, democracy. It is not possible, from my point of view, to make decisions simply for economic interests. So, first I value democracy in Taiwan. I don't think China is a democratic country. We have increased the commercial flow with Taiwan by 700% in five years, like never before.

Q. Will the free trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union be ratified one day?

R. All of Europe is looking much more carefully and sees today the importance of moving forward in closing the negotiation. I am also optimistic that this can happen.

Q. Former President Horacio Cartes moved the Paraguayan embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem days before leaving office. When you took over, you took her back to Tel Aviv. Peña said that if he wins he will transfer her back to Jerusalem. What do you think?

R. I respect what an elected president might want, but Paraguay is part of the United Nations and there is a UN Security Council resolution in force that says that in order to preserve peace in the Middle East, Jerusalem is considered disputed territory. There it was business. Later we in my government moved the embassy and that fact was not something against Israel at all. It was simply adjusting to something that international law dictates.

Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez signs a resolution at the presidential residence after the interview.
Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez signs a resolution at the presidential residence after the interview.Santi Carneri

Q. What business does Cartes have with Netanyahu?

R. That ask him.

Q. The relationship with Brazil is key for Paraguay, especially in relation to the binational Itaipu dam. How was your relationship with Jair Bolsonaro?

R. I had an excellent relationship with President Bolsonaro from the beginning of his term. In fact, today we are building the largest work after Itaipu of greatest relevance, the Bioceanic route, which is part of an integration process between Brazil and Paraguay with two bridges. We started it with Temer and continued with Bolsonaro. And I also have to say that I have the best relationship and I am very happy with the times that we have been able to talk with President Lula. With him we have already reached an agreement on the Itaipu rate for this year. Paraguay did not have the possibility of withdrawing what is theirs from the Itaipu and Yacyretá hydroelectric plants [compartida con Argentina]. I am going to leave the Government with a country where for the first time we can withdraw everything that corresponds to us.

Q. What will happen if the opposition National Concertation wins on Sunday?

R. I am going to lead a process of an exemplary transition. In fact, surely a few days after the elections we are going to invite the president-elect and we are going to make the entire team available, so that the incoming president has all the support and information he needs.

Q. Even if it's not red?

R. Whoever it. I am a democrat.

Q. A few months ago, a voting machine fire called into question the transparency of the process. Can there be fraud in these elections?

R. I want my party to win, but not with fraud. Nothing with fraud. Above my party is the will of the people and the integrity of the electoral process. And we are cooperating with the Superior Court of Electoral Justice in providing it with all the logistics and all the support of the National Police and even the Armed Forces to guarantee the electoral process. Sunday will be a great civic day.

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