Newly inaugurated Paraguayan President Santiago Pena has pledged to relocate the Paraguayan embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv for the second time in the last five years, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (Likud) said Wednesday.
Cohen said he had secured the promise of a Paraguayan embassy in Jerusalem when he attended Pena’s inauguration in Asunción on Tuesday.
Israel has long campaigned to strengthen international recognition of its hold on Jerusalem by pushing its allies to relocate their embassies to the country’s capital.
The United States was the first country to do so in 2018 and was followed by Guatemala, Honduras, and Kosovo. The countries that have embassies in Jerusalem acknowledge that the city is Israel’s capital, while many in the international community refuse to issue such a recognition.
“We continue to strengthen the international status of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel,” Cohen said.
“I invited the president of Paraguay, Santiago Penia, to make a presidential visit to Israel this year and to inaugurate the Paraguayan embassy in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,” he said.
“I invited the president of Paraguay, Santiago Penia, to make a presidential visit to Israel this year and to inaugurate the Paraguayan embassy in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”Eli Cohen
Paraguay's second relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem
Paraguay is unusual when it comes to recognizing the status of Jerusalem. It had already followed the US’s lead and opened an embassy in Jerusalem, but then moved the mission back to Tel Aviv that same year when its government changed hands.
To protest the move, Israel closed its embassy in Asunción. It has now promised to reopen the mission next year.
“The opening of the Paraguayan embassy in Jerusalem, and the Israeli embassy in Asunción, will strengthen Israel’s regional and international position and the significant ties between the countries,” Cohen said. “We will continue and strengthen the important historical connection with the Latin American nations, which stood by the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
At the inauguration, Cohen also secured a pledge from Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou to open a diplomatic office in Jerusalem for cooperation and innovation. Several other countries have taken that move as an initial nod in the direction of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Cohen then traveled to Uruguay on Wednesday, before his expected return to Israel on Thursday.
Pena was sworn in on Tuesday as Paraguay’s president, promising to “build alliances” and show “firm and ethical leadership” for the next five years after his April election victory.
Pena took the presidential oath outside Asunción’s government palace in a solemn ceremony that was attended by South American leaders, the king of Spain, and Taiwanese Vice President William Lai. Paraguay is one of the few remaining countries that retains formal diplomatic ties with the self-governed island claimed by China.
“We will build alliances and cooperation with a geostrategic vision,” Pena said in his inaugural speech, adding that Paraguay’s relationship with Taiwan “is an example of this and of Paraguay’s friendly and cooperative spirit with nations.”
Pena, 44, secured a solid election victory in April and replaced Mario Abdo Benitez. Both are from the conservative Colorado Party, which has dominated Paraguayan politics for the last three-quarters of a century.
“Santi,” as he is often known, has pledged business-friendly policies focused on job creation, low taxes, and attracting foreign investment to help the farm-driven economy recover after the coronavirus pandemic and a drought that destroyed more than half of the soybean crop last year.
Despite pressure from farmers who want to open up Chinese markets, he has pledged to stick with Paraguay’s decades-long diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
In his speech, Pena said he would work to combat state corruption, fight against poverty that affects almost a quarter of the Paraguayan population, and improve education, healthcare, and security.
“Success is making all Paraguayans better off,” he said. “It is time for a pact to achieve the quality of life that Paraguayan families deserve.”
Pena faces the additional challenge of shoring up relations with the United States after the US government accused his political mentor, former president Horacio Cartes, of corruption. Pena acknowledged Cartes fondly at the beginning of his public address.
Pena served as finance minister under Cartes from 2015 to 2017.
Some analysts have said Cartes, who heads the Colorado Party, will likely be influential in the incoming government, which has a majority in Congress. Pena “must make clear his legacy of autonomy,” political scientist Milda Rivarola told Paraguayan newspaper Ultima Hora.
“People must feel that he is the one who decides, and not Cartes,” she said, adding that it fell on Pena to decide whether “he is going to be a delegate or if he will be the president.”