Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

PARAGUAY-POLITICS: Stench of Corruption Lingers Around Wasmosy

Mario Lubetkin

ASUNCION, Aug 26 1997 (IPS) - A relaxed President Juan Carlos Wasmosy, who hosted a weekend summit of the Rio Group of nations, dismissed charges of corruption against his government as showing simply there was ” true freedom of the press in my country.”

“Corruption is not only a Paraguayan problem – it is an international one,” Wasmosy said in an interview with IPS.

He declared that, during his term as Paraguay’s first civilian president in many decades, important progress had been made on several fronts – including advances in foreign policy and in rooting out corruption at homer.

According to Wasmosy, the allegations of corruption simply demonstrate that “there is true freedom of the press in my country.”

He insisted that the respect earned by his country on the international scene, expressed by the Rio Group summit in Asuncion, “demonstrates that our situation is not as bad as some maintain.” Over the past few months, there has a been a concerted attack against him “not so much from the ranks of the opposition” as from the governing Colorado Party, which next month selects its candidate to run in the 1998 presidential elections.

The campaign for the internal party elections has given rise to clashes and mud-slinging among the currents that make up the ruling party, which has been in power since 1948.

Wasmosy maintained that corruption had not tarnished his administration, among the achievements of which he highlighted democratic stability, consolidated among other measures with the purging of the armed forces, and demonstrated in the transparency of the 1996 elections, “which no one questioned.” Sixty generals and hundreds of police officers were sent into retirement “without one single shot being heard,” the president pointed out.

With respect to the financial crises that broke out in 1995 and this year, triggered by the fraudulent “emptying” of several banks by their owners, Wasmosy stressed that his government lacked the necessary legislative instruments for tackling such situations, because “the laws we have date back to 1952” and are in need of updating.

One of the most Wasmosy administration’s most outspoken critics, treasury inspector Daniel Fretes, meanwhile insisted that the mounting reports of corruption would not only severely affect the government, but state institutions themselves.

“According to our calculations,” more than one billion dollars in losses “due to mismanagement of funds” have been verified over the past two years, Fretes told IPS.

The office of the treasury inspector, created by parliament in 1995, is afraid other serious situations could be discovered, he said. “For example, the Central Bank does not collaborate with us as it should, and we are unaware of the amount” and the whereabouts “of the country’s reserves abroad and how they have been used,” he added.

Fretes accused the judicial system of failing to act with respect to “reported and proven” cases of corruption, saying investigations “generally end up in some forgotten drawer.”

The official maintained that structural corruption pervades the entire system, which could only be uprooted by extremely severe measures.

Opposition politicians consulted by IPS expressed concern over the growing wave of allegations but they were cautious about predicting Wasmosy’s future.

“There is a tacit accord in the political system for the first civilian president in many decades to reach the end of his mandate in 1998,” commented senator who asked not to be identified. That is necessary “to avoid a greater weakening of the democratic institutions,” he underlined.

Wasmosy’s “greatest desire” is to pass on the presidency to the winner of the August 1998 elections. Then, “from my life-long post as senator, and with the knowledge I have of state business, I will be implacable with those who are wrongly denouncing me today,” the president said.

But not everyone is sure that next year’s elections will be clean. “We will have serious difficulties guaranteeing the transparency of the 1998 elections if we do not obtain enough public funds for ensuring that aim,” said Carlos Stellato, the Electoral Justice High Court’s director of communications.

Stellato said the difficulties would start to show up within the next few weeks, when the results of the governing party’s internal elections will be tallied.

In spite of his current troubles and the wave of allegations, Wasmosy says that a few years down the road, the role his government has played in the shift from “an obedient society to an intelligent society,” the task he took on when assuming the presidency in 1993, will be recognised.

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