Monday , May 17 2021

Paraguay president upends cabinet amid protests


Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benitez said he will name new cabinet ministers amid unrest over his government’s handling of the pandemic that has left at least one person dead.
In an address to the nation, Abdo Benitez said he would name a new cabinet chief as well as new health and education ministers in the coming hours “for the sake of peace.”
More changes to the cabinet will be evaluated next week, he said, adding that the new health minister will have the mandate to “make all possible efforts to guarantee the timely supply of medicine and medical supplies.”
Protests over his handling of the health crisis in the capital, Asuncion, led to the cabinet reshuffling and are shaping up to be the biggest test of Abdo Benitez’s presidency since a controversial electricity deal with Brazil almost led to his impeachment in 2019. Abdo Benitez, whose five-year term ends in 2023, already replaced or reassigned more than half a dozen ministers and senior government officials before the announcement.
Public frustration has boiled over in normally peaceful Paraguay following shortages of key drugs in public hospitals and the lack of vaccines.
Thousands of people poured into the streets of downtown Asuncion for a second night, chanting “leave Marito,” in reference to the president’s nickname.
Protests saw confrontations between a small number of violent demonstrators and police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least one person died, according to Ultima Hora newspaper.
Covid cases and deaths have surged since July as the government largely reopened its economy in a nod to the country’s informal sector that employs about two thirds of workforce.
Senior opposition leaders have called for the impeachment or resignation of the president and vice president Hugo Velazquez.
The opposition would need the backing of lawmakers from the ruling Colorado Party for the impeachment to be successful.
The government ran up a deficit of 6.5% of GDP in 2020 to fund social programs and shore up a weakened public health system, yet many families of Covid-19 patients have turned to the black market to buy sedatives and other medicine. In some cases those drugs were reportedly stolen from state hospitals.
Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to obtain vaccines have so far yielded just 24,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V and Coronavac shots for a population of 7 million people.
Former Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni resigned Friday after the Senate passed a non-binding resolution calling for his ouster over his handling of the crisis.
The central bank expects Paraguay’s economy to expand 4% this year, after contracting less than 1% in 2020, thanks to a massive dose of fiscal and monetary stimulus.

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