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
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum