April 22, 2008

Ex-Bishop Leads Left-Right Coalition as Paraguay's New Leader

What an amazing achievement for Fernando Lugo and his party, the right and the left of them! Let's look forward to a better future for Paraguay.
ASUNCION, Paraguay: The world's longest-ruling political party lost its six-decade grasp on power in Paraguay with the presidential victory of a former Roman Catholic bishop.
Opposition candidate wins presidential election in Paraguay
Political newcomer Fernando Lugo, a charismatic 56-year-old who resigned from the church to run for president, put an end to the Colorado Party's 61-year reign in Sunday's election, rallying voters against political corruption and economic disarray.
Emerging from a 1947 civil war, the Colorado Party was marked by the right-wing dictatorship of the late Gen. Alfredo Stroessner until his ouster in 1989.
Lugo said Monday that his first priority would be to help Indians mired in povert
y and to seek more revenues from Brazil from a dam on a river border between the two nations.
The triumph of Lugo's eclectic opposition coalition — the Patriotic Alliance for Change — is the latest in a series of electoral wins by leftist, or center-left, leaders in South America.
Mark Weisbrot, at the Washington think tank Center for Economic and Policy Research, said Lugo's election is a sign of "deep and irreversible ... changes sweeping Latin America."
The U.S. on Monday signaled willingness to work with the new government. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters that the elections are a "step forward" after Paraguay's "rather difficult history in terms of the development of democracy."
But Lugo faces many challenges: 43 percent of the country's 6.5 million people live in poverty, illiteracy is high, 300,000 landless peasant farmers are clamoring for help and Paraguay's corruption is notorious. Lugo, who has never held public office before, forged his anti-Colorado coalition just eight months ago.
Lugo became a bishop in 1994 but resigned the post in December 2006 to sidestep Paraguay's constitutional ban on clergy seeking office. He says he is neither on the left nor the right and has distanced himself from the region's more radical leaders, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
Eight months ago, Lugo melded leftist unions, Indians and poor farmers into a coalition with Paraguay's main opposition party, the conservative Authentic Radical Party. [Attention, K-Mart Shoppers! We have a winning product in Aisle Paraguay!] He now vows to use his five-year term, which begins Aug. 15, to right economic problems dating back decades.
About 100,000 Paraguayans are identified as Indians from 17 ethnic groups, according to the most recent national census. Lugo is fluent in the Guarani Indian language, an official language in Paraguay alongside Spanish
Associated Press Writer Pedro Servin contributed to this report.
For more on this region, see November 17, 2007, Sinister or Silly? Bush Buys Paraguay Property

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