World

Millionaire assumes Paraguay’s presidency

Horacio Cartes also promised to strengthen Paraguay’s international ties and its commitment to human rights.
Partido Colorado via Reuters
Horacio Cartes also promised to strengthen Paraguay’s international ties and its commitment to human rights.

ASUNCION, Paraguay — Multimillionaire Horacio Cartes vowed to battle poverty on Thursday as he assumed the presidency of Paraguay, one of the most unequal nations in South America and a place where his business dealings have made him a target of US criminal investigations.

The tobacco magnate said he intends ‘‘to win every battle in the war we’re declaring today against poverty in Paraguay.’’

‘‘I’m not in politics to make a career of it or become wealthier,’’ said Cartes, 57, who promised to strengthen Paraguay’s international ties and its commitment to human rights.

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Cartes built a family fortune with two dozen companies that dominate industries from banking to tobacco to soft drinks to soccer, so much so that it will be difficult to make a move as president without generating complaints of conflicts of interest.

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Cartes, a political neophyte who never voted for president before running for the office, has faced accusations that his wealth was fed by money laundering, cigarette smuggling, and drug trafficking.

Voters overlooked these allegations, focusing on hopes that the businessman from the dominant Colorado Party can help the country.

He won April’s election with 46 percent support by promising to create many more jobs.

Smuggling, corruption, and tax evasion are endemic in Paraguay, and analysts believe it’s difficult for executives not to come in contact with criminals at some point.

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Accusations involving Cartes became widely reported after WikiLeaks published a 2010 State Department cable that labeled him the head of a drug trafficking and money laundering operation.

US officials said they were concerned enough to infiltrate his companies with undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents to disrupt what they believed to be an organized crime operation that banked drug profits made in the tri-border area, a smuggling hotbed where Paraguay meets Argentina and Brazil.

Associated Press