ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay (AP) — President Santiago Peña said Paraguay and Taiwan are “not just allies, but also brothers” when he was sworn in as the South American country’s new president on Tuesday.
Peña took the presidential oath outside the government palace in the capital of Asunción in a ceremony attended by several regional leaders and Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai.
Paraguay is the only country in South America, and a member of a dwindling group of 12 governments around the world, to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It lost a key ally in the region earlier this year when Honduras cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
“We will build alliances and cooperation with a geostrategic vision, seeking horizontal agreements,” Peña said, noting that the country’s relationship with Taiwan “is an example of this and of Paraguay’s friendly and cooperative spirit with nations for which we have deep affection and with whom we feel not only as allies, but also like brothers.”
Before leaving on the trip Saturday, Lai said his visit to Paraguay was in part “so that the international society understands Taiwan is a country that persists in its democracy, human rights and freedom and actively takes part in international affairs.” Lai stopped in New York en route to Paraguay and was planning to stop in San Francisco on his way back home.
When Peña, 44, visited Taiwan in July, he told President Tsai Ing-wen his country would “stand with the people of Taiwan” during his five-year term.
Peña, an economist, easily won election earlier this year, keeping the long-ruling Colorado Party in power for five more years.
Taiwan’s ambassador to Paraguay, José Han, published photos on social media of Lai making chipa, a traditional cheese-flavored roll, and drinking tereré, an infusion popular in the South American country. “He loved the traditional flavors of Paraguay,” the ambassador wrote.
Taiwan had become a thorny issue during Paraguay’s presidential campaign as Peña’s main challenger argued the alliance had become too costly because it prevented the small country from pursuing business opportunities with China.
In his inaugural speech, Peña, a conservative, business-friendly president, praised former President Horacio Cartes (2013-2018), the head of the Colorado Party who has been accused by Washington of involvement in “significant corruption.” The U.S. government accuses him of bribing government officials and legislators and of having ties to people who raise money for the Hezbollah group, which Washington has deemed a terrorist organization.
“Thank you for persevering, without faltering, in the construction of consensus and in the pursuit of agreements above differences,” Peña said in words addressed to Cartes. “Today, it is our turn to bring that political calling to the service of all Paraguayans.”
Spain’s King Felipe VI attended the inauguration ceremony as did presidents from the region, including Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Alberto Fernández of Argentina, and Gabriel Boric of Chile.
“Success is making sure all Paraguayans are better off, and that the world becomes witness to the resurgence of a giant,” Peña said.