Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Paraguayan Election Could Tip the Scale Towards Venezuela

Sunday’s presidential election in Paraguay, which has brought former Catholic Bishop Fernando Lugo to power, stands to shake up Paraguay’s politics and could even exert an impact upon the course of wider hemispheric integration. Lugo focused on social inequality during his campaign, questioning why “there are so many differences between the 500 families who live with a first-world standard of living while the great majority live in a poverty that borders on misery.” The former cleric, who says that he has some affinity with socialism, wants to institute land reform and to re-establish Paraguay’s energy sovereignty.

As a politician and orator, Lugo would seem to differ somewhat from firebrand Hugo Chávez or Rafael Correa of Ecuador. The former Bishop stresses cooperation and dialogue rather than confrontation. He reportedly has an uncanny ability to bring people together who don’t trust one another.

During a recent trip to Washington, Lugo assured the State Department that he was not like Hugo Chávez because he, unlike the Venezuelan leader, was a religious man. The future Paraguayan President remarked, “I am not of the left, nor of the right. I’m in the middle as a candidate sought by my people.”

The Paraguayan moreover criticized Chávez’s decision not to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, a station which served as a hotbed of the Venezuelan opposition. In an interview, Lugo remarked that in Venezuela, there were “elements conspiring to attack the strengthening of public freedoms.” Under Chávez, Lugo added, Venezuela had pursued a political model which was “dangerous for a real democracy,” and “totally at the service of one person.”

On the campaign trail, Lugo was dogged by relentless accusations that he was receiving money from Chávez, a charge he has vehemently denied. "It's part of a dirty campaign against me. None of this is true", he insisted.

Despite his close affinity with Paraguay’s Guaraní Indians, Lugo has likewise sought to distance himself from Bolivia’s indigenous President Evo Morales. “Individual leaders,” he has said, “can cause polarization, as I believe is happening in Bolivia. I don’t believe in creating a polarized society.” “I will not be a Paraguayan Morales,” he adds. “Paraguay will have to pursue its own political destiny.”.......

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