Voters in Paraguay have a chance to solidify democracy Sunday in a presidential election that pits a candidate from a political party that governed for more than six decades against a hopeful from a party that currently holds the presidency, according to a former U.S. ambassador to the South American country.
"Paraguay has been struggling to establish a genuine democracy since the overthrow of the long-lived dictator Alfredo Stroessner in 1989," Timothy L. Towell wrote in an analysis of the political conditions in the landlocked nation. "And the recent fate of its first president not belonging to [Stroessner's] Colorado Party in six decades, Fernando Lugo, has not made the task any easier."
Stroessner imposed a brutal regime in Paraguay from 1954 until he was overthrown in a military coup 35 years later.
Mr. Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, ran as a candidate from the left-wing Christian Democratic Party and broke the stranglehold of the Colorado Party in the 2008 election. However, he was impeached on nepotism and other charges, and removed from office last year, allowing Vice President Federico Franco to succeed him.
Mr. Towell, U.S. ambassador in Paraguay from 1988 to 1991, described Mr. Lugo as "charismatic and somewhat eccentric."
Sunday's election will be a contest between Colorado Party candidate Horacio Cartes, a 56-year-old banker, and Efrain Alegre, a 49-year-old lawyer from the Liberal Party.
Mr. Cartes has been weakened by revelations of a U.S. government investigation into money-laundering charges, and the polls show the race is tightening.
"Despite the allegations against Cartes, it is to be hoped that the Colorado Party will continue to evolve away from its past associations with authoritarianism and corruption," Mr. Towell said. "And the question for the Liberals is whether in Alegre they have found a candidate who, if elected, would show the moderation and ability to sustain legislative support sufficient to serve out a successful term."
The most important thing Paraguayans could demonstrate Sunday is an ability to change political parties in a peaceful election, Mr. Towell said.
"This year's race in Paraguay will be a competitive one, and, at a minimum, it will be the people of that country who make the choice," he said.
SCREEN THE REBELS
Israel is worried that U.S. arms could fall into the hand of Islamic terrorists in Syria if the Obama administration sends weapons to the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad, the Israeli ambassador in Washington said this week.
"All we are saying is that the rebels should be very carefully vetted," Ambassador Michael Oren told Jewish reporters in an interview to mark Israel's independence day.
A jihadist guerrilla faction called the Nusra Front last week announced an alliance with al Qaeda, causing the main rebel force, the Free Syrian Army, to renounce all ties to the Islamists, who are considered among the most effective fighters against the Syrian army.
Mr. Assad regularly has claimed that terrorists are behind the 2-year-old uprising that has taken the lives of more than 70,000 lives, according to many estimates.
In his interview, Mr. Oren added that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the U.S. goal of removing Mr. Assad but is not advocating any particular U.S. action.
"We are not pressuring the United States to adopt any policies," Mr. Oren said.
The ambassador said the Israel also shares President Obama's concerns over Egypt, racked by protests and a crippled economy a year after the election of a Muslim Brotherhood government.
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