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Ciudad Del Este: 25 thousand people against Mayor Sandra McLeod

By Peter Tase

On May 14, 2014, Primera Plana, a weekly newspaper in Paraguay published an investigative article on the constant abuses of power done by the administration of Mayor Sandra McLeod in the city hall of Ciudad Del Este, as well as her husband who is the immediate past mayor and now the owner of a private jet.  Abuses of power are nothing new in Paraguay’s largest city; where corruption, impunity, waives of contraband cargoes in the local airport as well as juicy briberies for the judges and district attorneys have been a daily routine in Ciudad del Este, since 2001.   During his two terms in office, Javier Zacarías Irun, has constantly been engaged in traffic of influence cases, corruption affairs, impunity scandals, and constantly bribing local judges and district attorneys.  His style of public service, filled with impunity, lack of transparency and contraband cargoes moving in and out of the local airport, is currently being upheld and expedited by his wife, Sandra McLeod, the current mayor of Ciudad del Este. Additionally the brother of Javier Zacarias Irun, Justo Zacarias Irun, is the current governor of Alto Parana and he is also involved in acts of corruption.   It is clear that Alto Parana, the wealthiest department of Paraguay is being manipulated, its funds are mishandled and are used only to fulfill the personal ambitions of the Zacarias Family and for more than a decade they have caused high poverty levels, neglected public works projects and infrastructure as well as ignored the educational infrastructure in the whole department.  The Zacarias family is perhaps the only family in the Americas that has left behind the principles of genuine public service and is only dedicated to use the tax payers’ money to buy votes and bribe judges and other law enforcement officials, for their own immoral and personal gain.  Indeed Alto Parana has proved to be the less transparent province in South America.  According to Mr. Juan Pio Balbuena, the director of Primera Plana newspaper in Paraguay, “the Auditor General’s Office of the Republic of Paraguay, since 2001, has been unable to intervene and have access and review the accounting books and exert a candid investigation in the city hall of Ciudad del Este because, years ago, Javier Zacarias Irun bribed a corrupt supreme court judge, Mr. Manuel Seifildin, who issued an order that prohibited the intervention of the Auditor General’s Office in the local government offices of Ciudad del Este.   Later on, this judge was denounced and impeached for dereliction of duty and corruption, for giving impunity to an illegal cargo of perfumes that were unloaded in the regional airport.  On the other hand Javier Zacarias clan was never bothered by the justice system because he controls – constantly bribes with the public money – all district attorneys and judges in the region.”

On May 26, there will be more than 25 thousand local citizens who will come out on the streets to protest against the Zacarias Irun family and Mayor McLeod.  According to Attorney Crecencio Molinas, one of the leaders of this protest; “The Citizens’ Front has issued a statement in relation to the difficult moments that Ciudad Del Este is experiencing now and expecting that Ciudad del Este will be completely locked down during next week’s protests against the most corrupt family in Paraguay.”

According to Mr. Molinas, this protests will take place because of the ‘abuse of power exerted against every citizen in Ciudad del Este, we have taken the decision to establish the citizen’s front which is formed by many associations that are committed to build a better city, much more organized, democratic and above all transparent.  We want a city with a high quality of living and not a city run by corrupt leaders who abuse with the funds of FONACIDE and with public money.”

800 taxi drivers on strike against the abuses of the Zacarías McLeod group

Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s largest and wealthiest city is living its worst moments since its founding in 1957. The city is also the capital of Alto Parana which is one of the three wealthiest departments of Paraguay. Ciudad del Este is considered to be the first city in the nation for the amount of taxes that are collected every year from its residents but unfortunately as the amount of money collected by Mayor Sandra McLeod de Zacarías grows every year, with that amount are also growing the acts of corruption, lack of transparency and an overwhelming tendency of abuse with the public money and public office.

Additionally, the Municipality of McLeod has had recently some critical problems with its former employees for not respecting the national labor laws, and is found to be in animosity with the local Association of Taxi Cab Drivers as well as with the public in general, due to her abuse of power, traffic of influence and poor administration of public works and infrastructure in the whole city. For more than thirteen years, local government of Ciudad del Este has been monopolized by the dynasty of Zacarias Irun family, causing an increase of poverty levels while the amounts of taxes that are collected goes up every year; spending money on infrastructure while the public works and the road system is deteriorating every day and is currently found to be at its worst conditions ever, even though high taxes are paid by grain producers who operate in this region and export throughout the world over 100 thousand tons of grain every month.Historically Zacarias Irun and his wife have proved to be arrogant and corrupt civil servants who have abused power every day they spent in public office.

On May 13, 2014, at least eight hundred taxi drivers participated in a peaceful protest in front of the court house of Ciudad del Este to show support to five taxi drivers who were accused by Sandra McLeod’s Municipality with charges of civil disobedience and for violating public order on April 24th. The suspected individuals were the leaders of the Federation of Taxi Drivers of Ciudad del Este (FETACE) and the United Taxi Drivers of the East (TAUDE), their names are: Herminio Corvalán, Enrique Rolón, Roberto Fletes and Valerio Martinez. According to Elias Fox, the attorney of the above mentioned suspects.

The accused are prohibited to approach the municipality on a two hundred meters radius or less. On the other hand Mayor Mcleod and her wealthy family are allowed by the Paraguayan court system to circulate freely even though large sums of money have been abused under both her and Zacarías Irun (her husband) administrations. According to Mr. Rolando Segovia Paez, a distinguished Colorado Party leader in Alto Parana, “the Mayor of Ciudad del Este and her husband, are not willing to embrace a more transparent local government as well as initiated an evil persecution against the taxi drivers of Ciudad del Este, who struggle to earn their daily living by doing an honest and decent work and driving on inner city roads that are perhaps the worst inner city streets in Latin America.” Mr. Segovia adds that “there are a large number of young intellectuals in Alto Parana who are capable to contribute for a better life in Ciudad del Este and should say ‘No’ to Sandra McLeod’s anti-constitutional candidacy, instead they should support the other candidate of Colorado Party which will be determined in the next weeks, for the municipal elections of late 2015.” According to Mr. Rolando Segovia Paez, “the Citizens Front energetically repudiates these unjust acts against the taxi drivers and overall outrage led by the Mayor of Ciudad del Este, Sandra McLeod, against her fellow citizens and this movement will push to file a denounce of their unwillingness to make the government more transparent before the government authorities such as the Attorney General’s Office, National Congress and other governmental agencies that will put an end to such an abuse of power and traffic of influence, as well as do everything possible to prohibit the ill intended use by Mayor McLeod of the Attorney General’s office and the regional court’s system.”

Over 300 public servants illegally fired by Mayor McLeod in 13 years

In addition to the afore mentioned frustrated taxi drivers, Mayor McLeod is running into a very costly settlement with 23 public service workers and another group of 300 public employees who were fired from their job without any justifiable cause in 2001, during the administration of Javier Zacarias Irun. This compensation reaches over 300 thousand US Dollars and should have been allocated in the Municipality’s budget of 2012 and that amount goes up every year due to the accrued interest. Unfortunately McLeod’s municipality has not proceeded with the payments yet. The 323 public servants are waiting for more than 13 years such a compensation to be awarded by Sandra McLeod as the regional court judge has taken a decision in favor of the 323 former employees in Zacaria Irun’s administration.  According to Mr. Hernan Romero “it seems that the judges have taken a staunch decision in favor of the 23 employees, but on the other hand the Zacarias Irun dynasty considers themselves to be above the law and have ignored the Paraguayan justice system for over 13 years by not paying the right amount of compensation to these former employees who have won the court case against such a corrupt political club in Alto Parana.”

Foto source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=690946647618009&set=a.690933534285987.1073742381.100001080407870&type=1&theater

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Peter Tase

Peter Tase is a contributor, freelance journalist and a research scholar of International Affairs, Paraguayan Studies, Middle East Studies and Latin American Affairs, located in the United States. Educated at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Marquette University Les Aspin Center for Government; Tase is the author of “Simultaneous Dictionary in Five Languages: Guarani, English, Italian, Albanian and Spanish” and “El Dr. FEDERICO FRANCO y Su Mandato Presidencial en la Historia del Paraguay.” He’s a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy News. His personal website is www.petertase.com

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