October 4, 2022 | Foreign Policy

Biden’s Anti-Corruption Agenda Finds Its Test Case: Paraguay

A deeply corrupt South American country has entered the White House’s sights.
October 4, 2022 | Foreign Policy

Biden’s Anti-Corruption Agenda Finds Its Test Case: Paraguay

A deeply corrupt South American country has entered the White House’s sights.

Excerpt

U.S. President Joe Biden has defined the fight against global corruption as a “core United States national security interest” and made it an official priority for his administration. Now, he is turning Paraguay into a test case for his policy.

On July 22, the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay shocked the country’s political establishment by announcing at a live, televised press conference that the U.S. State Department was sanctioning former Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, along with his adult children, for their involvement in “significant corruption.” Less than a month later, the Biden administration doubled down by imposing sanctions for corruption on Paraguay’s sitting vice president, Hugo Velázquez, along with his close advisor and associate, Juan Carlos Duarte, and their spouses and children. Cartes, Velázquez, Duarte, and their families will no longer be able to obtain a visa and travel to the United States. A stunned Velázquez—who, until then, was arguably Paraguay’s power behind the throne and a serious contender in next year’s presidential elections—quit the race that same day.

U.S. authorities have targeted former leaders on corruption grounds before, not to mention a plethora of lower-ranking figures. This February, for example, the State Department designated former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. But for the United States to go after the sitting vice president of a friendly country is unprecedented. It is a clear message to Paraguay’s leaders as well as their regional counterparts: Washington will no longer take a passive approach to corruption.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Twitter: @eottolenghi. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

Sanctions and Illicit Finance