Cartes takes office in Paraguay

ASUNCION – Conservative businessman Horacio Cartes was sworn in as president of Paraguay on Thursday.

As cathedral bells pealed, Cartes prayed for “wisdom, prudence and justice to fulfill my duty to serve the noble Paraguayan people.”

Cartes, 57, took the oath of office in the gardens of the presidential palace.

He used his inaugural address to pledge a “war on poverty” in a country where 39 per cent of the seven-million people are poor.

“If in five years, we haven’t substantially reduced poverty, all our work will have been for nothing,” he said.

He also reached out to the leaders of neighboring states attending the ceremony, saying his “strong predisposition is to maintain cordial bilateral relations rather than aggravate differences of the moment.”

“Our intention is that we become closer. Understanding and cooperation honor us,” he said.

Paraguay was suspended from the South American trading bloc in June 2012 after its Congress abruptly impeached and forced out president Fernando Lugo, who was blamed for the deaths of 17 people in a clash between police and armed peasants.

Mercosur’s presidents said in July that the organisation would lift the suspension after Cartes’ inauguration, but Paraguay has said it will not return to the trading bloc as long as Venezuela holds its rotating presidency.

Cartes met separately on Wednesday with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera.

On Thursday after the ceremony he held talks with Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner, and Peru’s Ollanta Humala.

“We had a good exchange of views,” Kirchner said afterwards.

Cartes’ designated foreign minister, Eladio Loizaga, has said the new government would pursue relations with Mercosur members Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay bilaterally.

Unasur, a regional security organisation that also suspended Paraguay over the Lugo ouster, announced over the weekend that it was lifting the measure in view of the April elections, which it said were held “with total normality and broad citizen participation.”

Cartes replaces Federico Franco, a Liberal party leader who has led the country since Lugo’s ouster. — AFP