James Jay Carafano
Former finance minister Santiago Peña, of the center-right ruling Colorado Party, has defeated the leftist Efrain Alegre (an ally of Paraguay’s far-left former president and Venezuelan regime ally Fernando Lugo), by a wide margin. In third place, the anti-establishment Paraguayo Cubas finished well behind.
This election broke the trend of Leftists winning presidential elections in Latin America. Five of the last six presidential elections in the region have gone to Leftists. Further, this is the first recent significant win for an established center-right party.
The election has both regional and international implications. The leftist governments in Latin America have been an open door for China.
What’s the bottom line? Peña’s victory is good news for U.S. interests, particularly for the Paraguay-Taiwan strategic alliance dating back to 1957, and for efforts against the far-left anti-American wave in the hemisphere.
Why does Paraguay matter in era of great power competition? Paraguay, a landlocked country and strategically positioned on the tri-border with Argentina and Brazil, is the last remaining country in South America to recognize Taipei and remains a key target for China’s ambitions and strategic efforts in the southern cone. Current president Mario Abdo Benitez, also of the Colorado Party but seen as distant to Peña, requested last year that Taiwan ramp up its investment for Paraguay to remain an ally. Peña could pursue similar rhetoric and will likely face pressures from local agribusiness which China has courted for years. Still, Paraguay is likely to remain one of Taiwan’s 14 formal allies under Peña, who has repeatedly stated that Taiwan’s experience as a small country with a thriving economy is a resource for Paraguay.