Paraguay's new president believes in God and 21st-Century Socialism

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - On April 22, Paraguay's Electoral Tribunal made public the official results of Sunday's presidential elections, proclaiming Fernando Lugo the winner.

The left-leaning ex-bishop said immediately afterward, as a kind of apology to the Vatican: "I love my church, and I don't want to abandon it. I decided to serve my country as president. If this bothers the Holy Father, I ask his forgiveness."

He added that he hoped to return to his post as bishop after his five-year term as president. The Vatican replied that bishophood is "for life," while the head of the Paraguayan Bishops Conference suggested Lugo risks excommunication.

These were the two most unpleasant events to mar Lugo's victory.

A bishop since 1994, he resigned the post in December 2006 to run for the presidency, and set up the Patriotic Alliance for Change coalition eight months ago. He won 41% of the vote compared with 31% of his closest rival, former Education Minister Blanca Overal, supported by the Colorado Party.

Lugo's victory can be viewed as the second change of political regime in Paraguay after dictator Alfredo Stroessner's 35-year rule ended in 1989.

Bad as he was, Stroessner made the world speak about Paraguay, a landlocked country situated between Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, and one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Out of 6.5 million Paraguayans, 43% live below the poverty line set by the UN, and nearly 40% are illiterate, while 2% of the country's rich own nearly all of its farmland.

Stroessner looked quite liberal compared with other bloody dictators in the region. He left as he had arrived, in a military coup, and died peacefully in neighboring Brazil in 2006. But he left behind the ultra-rightwing Colorado Party, which he had turned into a state institution.

Lugo's victory in 2008 put an end to the rule of the Colorado, whose functionaries had controlled the country since 1947, longer than any other party in that period. Even the Chinese Communist Party only became the undivided ruler of China two years later.

The Colorado Party turned Paraguay into a club where only party members enjoyed life while corruption soared. Transparency International, a global civil society organization, ranked Paraguay 138th in its annual 180-country Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in 2007.

Tired of lawlessness and corruption, Paraguayans have voted for an ex-bishop, who supposedly cannot lie and will fulfill his election promises. But can he do it?

The Colorado Party is Lugo's main problem. He won the elections by making so many promises that he will surely need the assistance of the Heavenly Father to fulfill them.

He has promised to eradicate poverty and to give land to more than 300,000 landless Paraguayans "without expropriating land" from landowners. He said he would review the agreement with Brazil on the division of revenues from the Itaipu Dam on a river border between the two nations.

But the Colorado Party and corruption are part and parcel of the country's institutions, saturating the economy, business, finance, army, police and courts. The party controls all governing bodies in Paraguay, and so it is almost impossible to imagine "the bishop of the poor" fulfilling his promises. Brazil has already announced that it will not review the Itaipu agreement.

Lugo's victory has also pushed Paraguay to the left. Although the ex-bishop declares he is neither on the left nor the right, he has also said that it was Liberation Theology, a doctrine criticized by the Vatican for its Marxist influence, that inspired him to take up the cause of the poor.

The ex-bishop has said that the 21st-Century Socialism advocated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's President Evo Morales and Ecuador's Rafael Correa, was "interesting" and "very stimulating."

However, the difference between Lugo and the above three presidents is as large as the gap between Nepal's Maoists and Britain's Labor Party.

Now that Lugo has won the elections, there are only three overtly pro-American countries left on the continent - Colombia, Mexico and El Salvador.

Left, centre-left and centrist presidents and governments hold the reins in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, not to mention Venezuela, which was pushed dramatically left by super-socialist Hugo Chavez 10 years ago.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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