By Peter Tase
As Paraguay succumbs to recession, with a battered economy and affected by the worst public health crisis since its independence in 1811, corruption scandals are rising in Asuncion.
Such a multifaceted national crisis becomes even more unbearable for the general population due to the acts of corruption committed by those in power and close associates of President Mario Abdo Benítez (named by local indigenous leaders with the cutest jopara term of gratitude: zapatú un lado), and which are reflected within the salaries given to politically affiliated cronies by Itaipu and Yacyreta dams. These hydroelectric hubs are the country’s prominent income generating machines that distribute lavish salaries to over two hundred family members of key senators, the vice president’s immediate family and preferred ministers. Former President Óscar Nicanor Duarte Frutos has over 75 loyalists ‘working’ in Yacyreta; another well-known example is Federico Mora, Director of BECAL wearing fancy kicksies and securing an extravagant lifestyle in a country were fifty percent of the population lives below the standard line of poverty. Mr. Federico Mora is renowned for implementing a certain discriminatory practice when selecting candidates among the young and economically vulnerable Paraguayans who apply to receive university scholarships from the Government and BECAL. Mr. Mora, although he graduated at the London School of Economics and Political Science, with Paraguayan taxpayers’ money, according to reliable sources, is not fulfilling the duties embodied by his public office.
I have spent over four months conducting extensive research and interviews on the protocol of awarding university scholarships supposedly to the most vulnerable and young bright candidates with scarce resources, applied by Mora (BECAL) over the last six years. The alarming rate of a discriminatory behavior towards potential scholarship recipients coming from rural Paraguay has been a whispering voice inside the membrane of my ethics encouraging me to raise the tone in regards to a tarnished process that is causing more harm than good to the Paraguayan Society as a whole.
Among the fifty testimonials received by affected parties, I have chosen only one from Kavaju Retã (Caazapa) to illustrate such a malpractice going on in Mora’s office, towards the country’s most vulnerable strata and those with ophthalmic challenges. The name of the victim is not exposed to avoid any repercussions against the individual’s aspirations to study at a university.
Following is his testimony.
“My dream of studying medicine attracted my interest and focus on the Itaipu scholarship (BECAL), in early 2021 we had the competition sessions take place in Caazapa; on this occasion unfortunately, I did not earn the total points required for this scholarship. However, on my second and last attempt of application (and evaluation exam) I was informed that my name was on the list of winning scholarship recipients, due to my orthopedic problems and optical challenges inherited over the years. Indeed I had mentioned in the application that I was disabled and suffered from a rare bone marrow disease and visual impairment.
Due to my disability condition I had to request an official certification by SENADIS (National Secretariat for the Rights of Disabled Persons); I had to travel many times to Asuncion, so that they could assess my orthopedic and visual circumstances. After initially ignoring my request, on my fourth visit to SENADIS, I was informed that ophthalmologist was not available due to the pandemic crisis. I went back to SENADIS and they told me that my percentage of vision did not reach the required standards of disability nor my orthopedic problems were in an elevated state. I did make one last attempt and with two different doctors, specialists, and I was admitted to the SENADIS directory of disabled citizens.
At the moment when SENADIS gave me the certification, I presented this document to the Itaipu office, they told me that BECAL had already eliminated me from the list due to late delivery of documents, meanwhile the secretary of the scholarship department advised me that since I was originally on the list it was not easy for them to eliminate my name, and therefore I would personally speak with Mr. Federico Mora, to clarify any doubts and the secretary assured me that response would be positive.
A few days later they made me request another SENADIS certification that included the percentage of my vision being lost. When I went back to SENADIS I was informed that Becal sent them a list of names to verify if they were really with a disability, and my name was missing in this list. At this moment SENADIS officials communicate with Mr. Federico Mora and told him that SENADIS gave me the certification and it is absurd to ask for a percentage of vision. Regardless of these absurd circumstances Mora requested at all costs the exact number of my vision and updated radiographic images of my spinal cord. SENADIS reached a conclusion reflected in numbers on both my medical problems and sent them urgently to Mr. Mora. On this occasion, for the third and last time, Mora rejected me for missing a 3% loss of sight; or better said: because I had a vision impairment that was 3 percent higher than the limit, imaginarily explained in the policies of BECAL.
During all these entire bureaucratic thresholds, I was running out of time to apply again; and while I was apparently included on the list of scholarship recipients, I was not allowed to re-apply and unfortunately, I was left out of the 2021 application process. As I was focusing on getting the required documents once again, I did realize that my academic performance scores were not included in the total number of points that I – as a candidate – would have accrued. BECAL did not give me a single point for being the best student in my class and for having the best GPA in the entire graduation year of my high school.”
The comments and opinions expressed in this op ed are solely and entirely the responsibility of its author. Eurasia Review does not endorse nor corroborates the facts included in this publication