Lula Watch: Vol. VI, No. 2

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Elections in Paraguay: A Bishop-Candidate Favors the So-called “Socialism of the Twenty-first Century”

In a country where socialism without makeup causes horror, ambiguity, not radicalism, is the most disturbing instrument of the presidential candidate of the Alliance for Change

1. The Most Rev. Fernando Lugo, 56, former Catholic bishop of the diocese of San Pedro, in northern Paraguay, was suspended a divinis by the Vatican. He is an enthusiastic supporter of liberation theology and a leading candidate for president of Paraguay in the upcoming elections of April 20.

2. Bishop Lugo’s candidacy, on the slate of the so-called Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC) has been in preparation for a long time through careful political marketing strategies promoted by the media, NGOs and basic Christian communities linked to liberation theology. Paradoxically and surprisingly, he has received the support of the country’s second largest opposition party, the centrist Authentic Liberal Radical Party (PLRA) in exchange for letting it name his running mate.

3. In political, social and economic matters, Paraguay is predominately conservative. If Bishop Lugo wins, there would be the paradox of a conservative country electing a president-bishop who advocates a still undefined “socialism of the twenty-first century.” His victory would be a result of savvy political marketing moves and the complicity of conservative leaders who place personal interest above that of the nation.

4. The main trump card of the bishop-candidate is ambiguity. He avoids making any categorical affirmations about what he really believes. With this method, he could presumably steer the country toward the left, promoting a gradual disintegration of Paraguay’s political, social and economic institutions. For example, Lugo extols the “socialism of the twenty-first century” but resorts to every possible euphemism to avoid defining what he understands by that “socialism.” He praises presidents Chavez of Venezuela, Correa of Ecuador, and Morales of Bolivia for their “courage to carry out historic ruptures” while at the same time claiming that the “Paraguayan way” to the “socialism of the twenty-first century” will be unique and painless. He calls for land reform but reassures his listeners by promising that it will be “neither traumatic nor violent.”

5. In a country where socialism without makeup causes horror, ambiguity, not radicalism, is the most disturbing instrument of the presidential candidate from the “Alliance for Change,” as he has the potential to deceive many.

6. Another potential for conflict appears in the very legality of Bishop Fernando Lugo’s candidacy. On December 25, 2006, he resigned his office as bishop of San Pedro in a letter to the Vatican, which suspended him a divinis. Nevertheless, he is still a churchman. Bishop Ignacio Gogorza, president of the Paraguayan Bishops Conference has contended that Bishop Lugo “cannot resign because a person of his ecclesiastical status is a bishop for life even if not active, and therefore he cannot take part in partisan politics.” Indeed, article 235 of Paraguay’s Constitution forbids “ministers of any religion or denomination” to run for president. However, Bishop Lugo’s followers have already warned that violence could break out if the Electoral Courts impugn his candidacy.

7. Other candidates for president are former education minister Blanca Ovelar, supported by the ruling Colorado Party; retired Gen. Lino Oviedo, leader of the National Union of Ethical Citizens (UNIACE); and Pedro Fadul, of the Beloved Motherland Party (PPQ).

8. With its six million inhabitants, Paraguay, located at a crossroads of Latin America, finds herself above all at a political crossroads whose outcome can have important repercussions on the whole region. If political lucidity and the national interest prevail in the coming presidential elections, Paraguay will have given an important contribution to steering the whole continent in the right direction.

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