Who is Paraguay’s president-elect, Santiago Pena?
Santiago Pena, a former central banker, has won the presidential election in Paraguay after a strong challenge from centre-left leader Efrain Alegre.
The former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economist, who was hand-picked by the powerful head of the country’s dominant political force, the conservative Colorado Party, won a strong victory in Sunday’s presidential election.
Pena, 44, won 43 percent of the vote against 27.5 percent for Alegre, according to preliminary results from the country’s electoral court.
“Today we are not celebrating a personal triumph. We celebrate the victory of a people who chose with their voice the path of social peace, dialogue, brotherhood and national reconciliation,” Pena said in his victory speech, adding that there was “much to be done”, especially to revitalize the economy. to blow. .
“The time has come to postpone our differences and prioritize the common causes that unite us as a nation,” he said.
Pena takes office on August 15.
A new face of institutional power
Quick to smile and described as affable, Pena is the fresh face of an old institution.
Known as “Santi”, he became a father at age 17 when his now-wife Leticia Ocampos became pregnant.
Early parenthood didn’t stop him from continuing his education, but he said it was a “difficult” time that helped shape his political career.
“It led me to build on very solid principles of commitment, accountability, honesty, integrity, knowing that there are people who depend on you. And without realizing it, at age 17 I began to develop a calling of service,” Pena said.
Pena is a defender of what he describes as traditional family values and opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.
For him, a family consists of ‘mother, father and children’.
His son is now 26 and the couple also have a 17-year-old daughter.
After becoming a father as a teenager, Pena was encouraged to get an education from her family. He studied economics at university in Paraguay before going to Columbia University in New York for his postgraduate education.
He then worked as an economist at the central bank in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, before joining the IMF in Washington, DC. He later returned to Paraguay as a member of the central bank board.
Those who know Pena described him to the Reuters news agency as “clean cut”, “decent” and with “good ideas”. Critics said he is a member of the out-of-touch elite who has no political experience and acts as a puppet of Colorado Party leader and former president Horacio Cartes, Pena’s main backer.
“He’s not a politician who wants revolution — he wants evolution,” said a businessman with investments in Paraguay who knows Pena personally and asked not to be named.
Supporters said Pena will be able to keep a cool head during any tumult.
“I think what characterizes him is that he has infinite calm,” said Lea Gimenez, who served as Pena’s deputy when he was treasury secretary and later served as treasury secretary herself.
“Even during this election campaign, which has lasted so long because we have been going on for almost a year and a half, I have not once seen him lose his temper,” she said.
“He is very serene. His peace of mind is impressive,” an employee told AFP news agency.
Pena made his first attempt at the presidency in 2017 when he lost the party primaries to the man he will now replace after a constitutionally limited single term, Mario Abdo Benitez.
He entered politics as Treasury Secretary during the Cartes presidency, which is under US sanctions for alleged corruption.
Pena’s detractors describe him as Cartes’ secretary.
Alegre went even further, describing Pena as the “servant” of Cartes and the party as a corrupt institution.
But Pena has been nonchalant about the criticism and has promised business-friendly policies aimed at creating jobs, keeping taxes low and attracting foreign investment.
“He matured very quickly, as a young father. … He grew up very quickly,” a former colleague told Reuters. “’Santi’ has a lot of life experience and is a natural negotiator.”
Taiwan and Israel
Pena said he will maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan despite demands from the agricultural and livestock industries to open an export market to China.
Paraguay is one of only 13 countries to recognize Taiwan.
Also on the diplomatic front, Pena told AFP he would move Paraguay’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Paraguay had moved its embassy there in 2018 under Cartes, but reversed its decision within months, drawing anger from Israel, which closed its own mission in Asuncion in retaliation.
“Yes, I would go back to Jerusalem,” Pena told AFP before Sunday’s vote.