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.