“Bishop of the poor” is Paraguay’s new president

Former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo has taken up office as Paraguay’s new president. Our Observers in the country cast light on Latin America’s latest charismatic left wing leader.


Former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo has taken up office as Paraguay’s new president. Our Observers in the country cast light on Latin America’s latest charismatic left wing leader.

The introduction to this post was drafted by our Observer in Argentina, Johana Kunin.

After Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner, Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, and Uruguay’s Tabare Vasquez, the arrival of Fernando Lugo marks yet another victory for the Left in South America. Yet, while these leaders share a number of values and agree on the need to nationalise key companies - particularly in the energy sector - their policies vary significantly. In rough terms, we may speak of two groups: on the one hand, the “pragmatics”, who pull towards the centre; and, on the other, the “anti-imperialists”.

As for Paraguay’s new president, he advocates a “theological liberation of the Left”. He’s worked in the country’s poorest parishes and enjoys the reputation of being an honest man, a particularly important asset in a country where politics have become synonymous with corruption. Fernando Lugo said he would not marry during his five-year mandate, despite the Pope having lifted his vow of chastity. His sister will therefore act as the country’s first lady. The new president has also sought the advice of recognised experts, including the US Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Indeed, his first challenge will be to tackle widespread poverty in a country where only 6.5% of the population earns more than 270 dollars a month and where economy is dominated by large soy producers and devastated by corruption.

“Many (…) fear he will lean to the right”

Jorge Zarate is a journalist working in the capital of Paraguay, Asunción.

Paraguay’s new government will attempt to tackle inequality in the country. Fernando Lugo says he’s a “centrist”. Yet, many – particularly the workers and peasants that elected him – fear he may lean to the right once in power. People hope he will manage to put a lid on the oligarchs’ voracity.

Protecting workers’ rights and a reform of the country’s agricultural sector are two keys to building a different country, one that is fairer. Should it fail to tackle these issues, the government will be limited to administering poverty, leaving the current system of oppression in place.”


“He’s been accused of all the country’s ills (…), but never of corruption”

Marie Dufour is a French dietician living in Paraguay, where she’s building a boat.

Fernando Lugo will clean up Paraguay’s corrupt government. The old political class will be replaced by efficient experts. I think he’ll lead the country with an iron fist cloaked in a velvet glove.

He’s been accused of all the country’s ills: of being a communist, a revolutionary, a Chavist, a traitor to the Church; but never of corruption. 61 years of corruption at the top have left the economy in ruins and pushed the population toward an exodus. The public sector is languishing, while the fat cats get richer in all impunity. Worst of all, the government has been swindled by Brazil over the Itapu hydroelectric dam project [a facility built by Brazil and Argentina on Paraguay’s territory that enable the former two to purchase electricity at a third of the normal price].

As a Christian, Fernando Lugo is particularly well equipped to fight against corruption. Lawyers are already at work seeking to uncover widespread fraud involving state officials over the past 16 years.”


Fernando Lugo’s campaign video

People of Paraguay, the time for a historic change has come; a change that will not be in the interest of one person, one group or one political party. This time, Paraguay is the winner. The jobs and wellbeing of the people of Paraguay. The countryside will progress, as will the cities. Security wins. Justice wins. Unity wins. Our economy wins. And to start winning, we need to stop losing. Above all, the pride of the people of Paraguay is at stake. It’s our chance to recover our dignity. Vote for Fernando Lugo. Let Paraguay win.”