Why Paraguay's elections matter

El Surti Illustration

This article was originally published by El Surti and republished by Global Voices under a partnership agreement between these media outlets. Global Voices added contextual paragraphs.

On April 30, Paraguay held its general elections, in which Santiago Peña of the ruling conservative party, Partido Colorado (Colorado Party), won 42.7 percent of the vote amidst a campaign fraught with disinformation. Partido Colorado will therefore maintain its rule of the country it has led for the last 76 years, except for the period from 2008 to 2013.

In these elections, Peña stood against Efraín Alegre and his opposition conservative coalition, Concertación Nacional. On May 3, supporters of the former Paraguayan senator, Paraguayo Cubas, who came third in these elections, condemned their “monumental fraud” and clashed with police in Asunción. However, no evidence of fraud was documented by the authorities or international bodies monitoring these elections.

Although these elections may go unnoticed outside this country, they are still of international significance in terms of international relations, climate change, and renewable energy. Here are some of the reasons why these elections matter both nationally and internationally:

  • Because it involves China:

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Paraguay is the only South American country to still have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, there is an increasing internal demand to open up relations with China. China is Paraguay’s main source of imports, thus accounting for 30 percent of its total in 2021.

China views Taiwan as a renegade province and maintains that this island nation has no right to establish state-to-state relations. This stance thereby requires that any country with which China establishes diplomatic relations also enforces it.

According to the economist, Fernando Masi, “there would have been more chance establishing diplomatic relations with China, over the next five years, with Alegre’s government, than with that of Santiago Peña.” For the time being, President-elect Peña vows to maintain his official relations with Taiwan.

  • Because it matters a great deal to the United States:

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In January, the United States Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions upon Paraguay’s former president, Horacio Cartes, and the country’s current Vice President Hugo Velázquez for corruption. Both are members of Partido Colorado, of which Cartes is also party leader. Although Partido Colorado won once again, the sanctions against these politicians influenced some voters in these elections.
  • Because it could also affect local interests

The Congress of Paraguay must decide whether or not to approve a controversial agreement with the U.S. This involves developing a navigability plan for the Paraguay River and its stretch of the Paraguay-Paraná Waterway. The Paraná River is a long river running through Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. While Paraguay transports 80 percent of its trade via this waterway, scientists have outlined several significant risks that the construction of this waterway would pose for various South American ecosystems.

Paraguay has also become a major cocaine-trafficking corridor and is one of the leading producers of contraband cigarettes becoming increasingly available in this region. It is one of the biggest cannabis producers, even though this is still illegal in this country. However, a new draft legislation in the Senate could change this.

  • Because a lot of energy is at stake

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In August, Paraguay and Brazil will review the agreement from which the world’s second-largest hydro-electric power plant, Itaipu, originated. Paraguay and Brazil own 50/50 of this project.

Itaipu is one of the world’s largest renewable energy producers. It is therefore essential in the energy transformation.


  • Because it is home to the second most important ecosystem after the Amazon 

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Legal and illegal deforestation in the Paraguayan Chaco is associated with the climate change impact in this region. Over the last few years, the Gran Chaco dry forests have also been harmed by major fires and severe drought. According to research conducted by Argentine and German scientists, the carbon stored in this region is 19 times greater than previously thought. In April 2023, Peña tweeted his support for environmental restoration.

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