RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — President Horacio Cartes, the first Paraguayan head of state to visit Israel, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his South American nation also faced a Holocaust.
“Paraguay has had a Holocaust. We lost practically all our population in a war that was called the Triple Alliance with our neighbor,” Cartes said this week during a meeting with Netanyahu, referring to the South American war fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. There were some 400,000 casualties in that war.
“But,” he continued, “I don’t want to be the country to be remembered because we had the Holocaust. I want our countries to be much closer because we share principles and values.”
On Wednesday, Cartes completed a three-day trip to Israel, where he met with high-level officials. The leaders signed bilateral agreements on cooperation in time of emergency, legal matters, education, Holocaust remembrance and culture, as well as a Memorandum of Understanding on technical development assistance for Paraguay.
“You have been an anchor of friendship,” Netanyahu told Cartes, “and we are eager to discuss with you the possibilities of increasing our cooperation with all the countries of Latin America, which we think is a continent that has a great future.”
“We want to develop the future of our relations and through you, and with your help, the future of a broader relationship between Israel and the region.”
On Monday, Cartes met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, which Rivlin called “historic.”
“Paraguay was and still is a true friend of the State of Israel since its establishment, and even beforehand when it voted for it on Nov. 29, 1947,” Rivlin said. “We are happy to strengthen the ties between the two countries and I hope that your visit here will further improve the good relations.”
The visit came in the wake of the reopening of the Israeli Embassy in Paraguay about a year ago following a 14-year hiatus due to budgetary cuts. Paraguay has distinguished itself among South American countries by supporting Israel in the United Nations and other international forums.
At the World Jewish Congress special plenary assembly in Buenos Aires in March, Cartes was awarded the Shalom Prize of the Latin American Jewish Congress for his contributions to building coexistence.
Paraguay is home to some 1,000 Jews in a population of nearly 6.7 million people.