Paraguay to join South America’s anti-imperialist bloc?

Former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won an historic victory in Paraguay’s presidential election April 20, ending the long rule of the conservative Colorado party with a mandate to help the nation’s poor and indigenous. Winning 41% of the vote to Colorado candidate Blanca Ovelar’s 31%, Lugo said he had no intention of persecuting the Colorado party. “Our government is not going to start a witch hunt,” Lugo said the day after his victory. “We’ll try to co-govern by seeking consensus and harmony.”

The Colorado party had ruled Paraguay since 1947, backing and then surviving the 35-year military dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. (A third candidate in the race was Lino Oviedo, a former general who was part of the coup that ousted Stroessner in 1989, but was accused in a subsequent coup attempt and the assassination of the vice president in 1999.) Lugo said he expects the Colorado party to act as an “intelligent, rational” opposition after he takes office on Aug. 15. “There are major possibilities for starting a dialogue and forming new alliances within congress to assure Paraguay is governable,” he said.

Often called the “red bishop” or “the bishop of the poor,” Lugo left his post in the clergy three years ago saying he felt powerless to help Paraguay’s poor, who make up nearly 40% of the population. Lugo said his first priority would be to help the campesinos and indigenous people, and to seek more revenues from Brazil for surplus power from the Itaipu dam on the Rio Paraná, which forms the border between the two countries. Here, he seems to be emulating Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, who has made Brazil pay an extra $100 million a year for the natural gas it imports. Lugo says the original deal apportioning proceeds from the dam, signed in 1973 when both Brazil and Paraguay were ruled by military dictatorships, is illegitimate. Denouncing Brazil’s “economic colonialism,” he has pledged to take his case to the International Court of Justice if necessary. Argentina views this with concern, as it has its own hydro-electric joint venture with Paraguay, the Yacyreta dam—completed in the ’90s, and also on the Paraná.

Lugo says he prefers the term “progressive” to “leftist” to describe his politics, but critics say he wants to install a “revolutionary” government in Paraguay. While Lugo openly admires Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, he insists that Paraguay should “follow its own path.” In comments last year, he said: “Chávez is a military man and I have a religious background. My candidacy has arisen at the request of the people, it was born in a different way than Hugo Chavez’s.”

The day after his election as president, he apologized to pope Benedict XVI for his decision to leave the church, and said he hoped to return to his post as bishop once he term ended. However, the Vatican, having already suspended him from his duties “a divinis” when he stepped down as bishop (meaning that he could no longer say Mass or carry out priestly functions), is now said to be considering having Lugo defrocked. (AlJazeera, London Times, April 22; BBC, AP, April 21; AlJazeera, April 19; Reuters, April 8)

Observers from Asunción to Brasilia to Washington are waiting to see whether Lugo will fall within Latin America’s moderate center-left bloc (with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile) or the more radical and openly anti-imperialist bloc (with Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua).

See our last post on Paraguay.

  1. Paraguay’s new president.
    Let’s see in the next months where Lugo is leaning. I remember about two years ago the State Department said Al-Qaeda members were ‘harboring’ in that country. Paraguay is a very poor country without natural resources.

  2. What Lugo will be up against
    From Indian Country Today, April 21:

    ‘Most racist’ article attacked Native peoples in Paraguay
    ASUNCION, Paraguay – The Most Racist Article of the Year Award for 2007, given by the human rights organization Survival International, goes to a Paraguayan newspaper that published an editorial describing Native people as “a cancer” and as having “filthy habits.” Indigenous advocates also point to economic aspects and severe oppression as being parts of the reason for the media attack.

    SI’s award is a new feature of its “Stamp it Out” campaign, which aims to challenge racist depictions of tribal people in the world’s media. The winner, La Nacion of Asuncion, received a certificate March 21, inscribed with a quotation from Lakota Sioux author Luther Standing Bear: “All the years of calling the Indian a savage has never made him one.”

    Indigenous advocates from Paraguay are asserting, however, that the reasons behind the tirade are also economic, noting that the editorial writer is a hotel owner who claimed that the Native peoples were scaring away customers.

    The targets of the article’s vitriol are mainly Ava Guarani people who ended up living in a public park in the capital city of Asuncion for nine months, between January and September of last year. According to activists and attorneys involved in the issue, this group of families and others were supposed to be able to move into territory purchased for them – after their ancestors were forced off much of the same land – but problems have arisen in finishing the purchase arrangement.

    These details did not appear in the editorial, titled “Indians in Uruguay Square,” published in La Nacion Sept. 13, 2007.

    “A Neolithic Indian camp right in the city center is unthinkable, but there it is, like a dangerous cancer, spreading bad smells, destruction and contamination,” wrote Osvaldo Dominguez Dibb, author of the editorial and owner of La Nacion and the new Crowne Plaza Hotel in Asuncion. “The city’s being punished for no reason, and it shouldn’t have to pay for it. The Indians have to learn to live like people, or get back to the jungle.”

    Dominguez Dibb did not respond to requests for comment about the award or the issues facing indigenous people in Paraguay. The editorial writer is the owner of the newspaper and the principal shareholder of Karmar, S.A., which purchased the Crowne Plaza Asuncion. This same hotel is near the park mentioned in the article. What is not mentioned in the article, according to the indigenous advocates, is that Native people in Paraguay have been violently oppressed for many years and that this latest situation is another reflection of those discriminatory conditions.

    “They were camping there for nine months under polyethylene bags [plastic grocery bags],” related Gustavo Torres, the member of Citizens in Solidarity with the Indigenous Struggle in charge of international outreach. “… More than 400 people, mostly children, suffered from cold, hunger and illnesses on top of the humiliations heaped upon them by some members of the civilian population, specifically from the hotel owners that took out an ad on local TV stations urging the eviction of the indigenous people from the public plazas because they were scaring the tourists.”

    As a result of the pressure exerted by the hotel owners and other business people in the area, the Ava Guaranis began to receive constant threats of eviction, Torres asserted. The Paraguayan government did not offer any solutions either, he added, other than to agree with the removal of the families.

    Not long after the editorial’s publication, the indigenous refugees were relocated to an area near an army base, outside of the city and away from the eyes of tourists, he noted.

    “They are now living in a community called Tekojoja, on 730 acres of land,” recounted Magdalena Fleytas, a colleague of Torres’ and a member of the Citizens in Solidarity group.

    “The purchase of this land [which remains unresolved] was a victory coming from 10 months of continuous pressure on the government to provide suitable land for farming for the people. But they are still living in tents made of plastic bags, with minimal food provisions from the National Indigenous Institute and the National Emergencies Secretary, no economic credit, no other raw materials for construction nor technical assistance for farm production,” Fleytas stated. “The agreements made with the authorities from Health and Education continue to be just promises.”

    1. So the catholic church wants to defrock the bishop of the poor?
      So the catholic church wants to defrock the bishop of the poor? This is a revealing development! The same catholic church has been involved in attacks on Hugo Chavez as well as defending pedophilic priests….

      1. What exactly does it “reveal”?
        And what does the pedophilia have to do with it? That strikes us as a cheap and irrelevant shot. Unless you are one of these anti-Catholic freaks who thinks the Knights of Malta are going to get us…