Paraguay officially moved the country's embassy to Jerusalem on Monday, with President Horacio Cartes in Israel for the ceremony, also attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Paraguay, a member of Mercosur, is now the third country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, following the United States and Guatemala. The inauguration ceremony took place at noon at the embassy’s new home in the Malkha technology park, which also houses the Guatemalan embassy.
Netanyahu gave a speech at the ceremony in which he emphasized that both countries have great cooperation and it will be even better.
Paraguay supported the creation of the State of Israel in the United Nations. We will never forget that. Paraguay, before but especially under your leadership, took a very bold stance in international affairs and refused to cooperate with the lies directed against Israel. We always remember that.
And because of this, you have not only the support of our government but the profound gratitude of the people of Israel. We remember our friends. We have no better friends than you, Netanyahu said.
At the event, Netanyahu also said Paraguay helped Jews escape Nazi Germany. We will never forget this. Paraguay, however, was also known as a safe haven for Nazi fugitives - including Josef Mengele.
Cartes responded by saying, From the depth of my heart, I appreciate this country that courageously defends its right to live in peace and it is building a praiseworthy economically prosperous state that ensures its future and that of its children.
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin met with Cartes before the ceremony and said he was happy and proud to host him. Paraguay is thousands of miles from here, but our hearts are close.
Cartes thanked him and said, Many ask me why we decided to move the embassy to Jerusalem and I can say that we decided to put things in their right place. We don't owe you anything and you don't owe us anything. This is just the right thing to do.”
In Paraguayan circles, Cartes is considered controversial: a billionaire from banking and trading in cigars and drink, his name has been associated with money-laundering and drug-smuggling.
He also served as president of a soccer club and was elected leader of the right-wing Colorado party that had formerly served as the political power base of the tyrant Alfredo Stroessner, a military general who led Paraguay as president from 1954 to 1989. Cartes is also a self-avowed homophobe, known for comparing the LGBT community to “monkeys.”
Netanyahu met with Cartes in September 2017, in Buenos Aires, saying “You are a great friend and I think that there is a lot of potential in the cooperation that we have for the betterment of both our peoples and to help, to the extent that Israel can offer its experience in technology, agriculture, water, and security.”
Cartes answered that they work well together, though in his opinion, much remains to be done. “Relations are like a muscle, you have to exercise every day,” Cartes said, adding, “But I want you to know that we like you very much.”
Local media in Paraguay reported that the decision to move the relocate the embassy to Jerusalem has drawn criticism in the country, and the decision will be reevaluated under the administration of the incoming president, Mario Abdo Benitez.