Horacio Cartes: Millionaire. Criminal. Business titan.
Homophobe. The next president of Paraguay?

He has been called many things during his extraordinary life, and he could soon add a new title

Asuncion

Horacio Cartes leads in the polls for Sunday’s presidential elections in Paraguay. Campaign posters in the landlocked nation’s capital, Asuncion, show his beaming face above a slogan declaring “a new direction” for the country. But detractors of the millionaire Colorado Party candidate offer a different vision: a man mixed up in a host of illicit activities, including drug trafficking. A man who represents big business and corruption.

Mr Cartes is one of Paraguay’s most influential figures. Over the past two decades the businessman has built up a powerful empire. He owns some 25 companies, spanning the drinks industry, meat production and tobacco, employing thousands. Since 2001, he has also been president of Libertad football club. But damning allegations continue to swirl.

“Cartes has bought farms, a drinks bottling company and a football team,” says Chiqui Avalos, author of The Other Side of HC, an exposé of the leader. “He has also bought a political party and now he might be able to buy a country. This would be terrible.”

The most serious smear against the 56-year-old involves drug trafficking and contraband cigarettes. In 2011, WikiLeaks cables originating from the US embassy in Buenos Aires placed him at the centre of a drugs and money-laundering network operating out of the lawless frontier with Argentina and Brazil. Mr Cartes has publicly denied the allegations and says he has received assurances from the embassy that the US Drugs Enforcement Agency and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are conducting no investigations against him, something the cables allege.

But the drugs scandals are nothing new. In 2000, drugs enforcement officers intercepted a small plane on one of Mr Cartes’s farms carrying a cargo of of cocaine and marijuana. Mr Cartes said that an unknown plane landing on his property had nothing to do with him.

“When it comes to drug trafficking, Horacio has made it clear what his position is,” says Julio Velazquez, a Colorado senator standing for re-election tomorrow. “There’s no concrete allegation against him. Horacio has investments in the US. Do you think the Americans would allow a narco to bring money into their country?”

Mr Cartes has spent millions of dollars financing his campaign. A political outsider, he only joined the Colorado Party in 2009, the same year he added his name to the electoral register, meaning he had never voted in a Paraguayan election before. In the past, potential Colorado presidential candidates needed to have been party members for 10 years; Mr Cartes had the law overturned.

No expense has been spared bringing in top advisers to oversee his campaign. The focus has been Mr Cartes’s success as a businessman, an idea underlined by Senator Velazquez who mentions his “vision for investment”.

“Cartes obeyed his advisers for much of his campaign,” explains author Chiqui Avalos. “He didn’t open his mouth. The campaign was focused on the Cartes Group, his business interests and the work he’s given people. But in the last two months he has begun giving his own talks – and the results have been terrifying.”

The Colorado leader’s recent ability to put his foot in his own mouth has led the left-wing presidential candidate Mario Ferreiro to state that “a silent Cartes was a mystery. Talking he’s a disaster”. His most polemical statements have centred on his admiration for the traditional Paraguayan family while comparing the LGBT community to “monkeys”. Earlier in the month he said he would “shoot myself in the b*****ks” if he were to discover a son who wanted to marry another man.

“Cartes’s comments are completely immoral,” Sergio Lopez, head of SomosGay, a LGBT organisation based in Asuncion, tells The Independent.

The most recent scandal, however, has been allegations of a secret offshore account in the Cook Islands run by the bank he owns, Amambay Trust, illegal since 2003 according to Paraguayan law. Senator Velazquez says the story is dirt-digging from the opposition and that although the bank was created “there was no movement of cash within it”. So why was it created in the first place? “I’m not in a position to answer that,” he replies.

Mr Cartes isn’t quite the runaway victor he once was, due to the scandals that have stuck to him and a recent alliance the second-placed Liberal candidate Efrain Alegre has made with another party. A poll gave him 47.6 per cent of the vote while Mr Alegre trailed with 32.5 per cent. Some commentators says the margin has now shrunk.

But the Colorado Party is a colossal machine and doesn’t get knocked down easily. Before the leftist former priest Fernando Lugo came to power in 2008,  the Colorados had enjoyed an uninterrupted spell of 60 years in power, including the controversial dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, Latin America’s longest serving despot. To this day, more people are card-carrying Colorado Party members than any other movement.

“The Colorado Party created this strong patronage system,” says Antonio Soljancic, a social scientist at the Autonomous University of Asuncion. “So in order to get a job you had to show you were a party member. The problem Paraguay has is that, although Stroessner disappeared from the political map, he left a legacy that no one has tried to bury.” For Chiqui Avalos there is still fear surrounding the Colorado Party, making it impossible for him to find publishers for his book. “I think many people will be voting for Cartes out of fear more than anything else,” he says.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star