Federico Franco, Paraguay’s new president who was installed after what regional neighbours have scorned as a legally flawed impeachment process, “has the opportunity to be a Paraguayan Cincinnatus”. So says Manuel Ferreira, the newly appointed finance minister (and ancient history buff).
Cincinnatus, though, was a Roman dictator – possibly not the title Franco would like to be remembered by, especially after he came to power in what has been slammed in Buenos Aires and some capitals as a new-style coup d’état.
But Ferreira said an ancient Roman dictator had a six-month mandate to resolve a specific crisis – rather like the 14 months in office Franco now faces to steer Paraguay out of institutional crisis and see out the term of Fernando Lugo.
Cincinnatus was dictator for just 16 days, returning to his farm after successfully routing an army of would-be invaders. Franco has longer – but his political career is also facing a hiatus.
As president, he can not stand for re-election and he did not, anyway, win the primaries in his Liberal Party ahead of the April 2013 vote.
Lugo’s future looks even more doubtful. Though he rallied Paraguayans to demonstrate peacefully against what he called an “institutional coup”, Asunción showed no signs of anything other than business as normal.
He is said to be planning to run as a senator, but the joke doing the rounds in Asunción is that he had more children than supporters in his trial by Congress. The former “bishop of the poor”, who has acknowledged fathering two children while a cleric (though there are claims of more), was ejected by 39 votes to 4 after legislators voted by 76 to 1 to impeach him.
Could that herald a return of the Colorado party, which ran Paraguay as a fiefdom for 61 straight years until splits opened the way for Lugo to triumph in 2008 promising a clean break with the country’s corruption-tainted past?
Horacio Cartes, seen by some in Paraguay as the man to beat in next April’s vote, says yes – but a Colorado Party that is mindful of change. “We can win the election but we need a new direction, a new Paraguay, based on the rule of law,” he told beyondbrics.
A wealthy business magnate, he says Lugo’s impeachment was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” of an unpopular and ineffectual administration. He brushes aside allegations, in leaked diplomatic cables, that he was involved in money laundering. “I’d be in court if they were true,” he smiles.
“Paraguay needs only one thing to be a great nation,” he says. “To be serious.”
Much will now ride on Franco’s transition government and its success in rebuilding the country’s battered image.
Paraguay counts cost of Lugo’s sacking, FT
Paraguay bank pulls $200m bond sale, beyondbrics
Paraguay: what now for foreign investors?, beyondbrics
Neighbours balk at sanctioning Paraguay, FT