Paraguay: Left wins election, ends one-party rule

Left-wing former bishop Fernando Lugo won Paraguay's presidential election on April 20 with 41% of the vote, according to an April 21 AFP report.

The result brings to an end over 61 years of conservative rule — including 35 years of brutal military dictatorship — in Paraguay by the corrupt, right-wing Colorado Party, whose candidate received 31% of the vote.

According to the report, Lugo stated: "Today we can dream of a different country ... Paraguay will simply not be remembered for its corruption and poverty, but for its honesty."

Addressing "jubilant supporters" of the left-wing Patriotic Alliance for Change coalition, Lugo said the result showed that "the little people could also win", according to AFP.

Lugo, who left the Catholic Church behind because he felt "helpless" to assist the poor, campaigned on the need to tackle social inequality.

According to an April 22 Venezuelanalysis.com article by Nikolas Kozlov, Lugo questioned 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".

Lugo has called for land reform and the re-establishment of energy sovereignty for Paraguay. Lugo has also echoed criticisms made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of the trading bloc Mercosur, of which Paraguay is a member, for not being concerned about social inequality, according to Kozlov.

An April 21 Reuters article quoted Mark Weisbrot from US think tank, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, commenting on the significance of Lugo's victory: "If you have a left candidate who is clearly identified with the poor ... and if he can break the grip of the longest ruling party in the world, a right wing party, I think it shows how much South America has changed and how much democracy has taken hold."

According to an April 21 Venezuelanalysis.com report, Chavez congratulated Lugo on his victory, and, according to Venezuela's foreign ministry, "took advantage of the opportunity to recognize the impeccable day of democracy, had by the Paraguayan people ... who demonstrated their political maturity".

Venezuelanalysis.com reported that both Chavez and Lugo have agreed on the importance of continuing to work towards the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR), a project aiming towards political integration of South American nations. The Venezuelan foreign ministry reported that both presidents "expressed their desire to meet as soon as possible to talk about cooperation plans".

In the lead up to the elections, the Paraguayan government had accused Lugo of being funded by the Chavez government. According to Venezuelanlaysis.com, in the week before the election, then-president Nicanor Duarte stated: "Important groups very close to President Chavez are collaborating with the ex-bishop Fernando Lugo."

Lugo strongly denied the allegations, arguing: "It's part of a dirty campaign against me. None of this is true".

During his campaign, he sought to distance himself from not just the Chavez government, but also the left-wing indigenous-led Bolivian government of President Evo Morales. Lugo argued that he was a candidate of the "middle".

While he has strongly praised Venezuela's social programs that have led to a significant reduction in poverty, he has also criticised Chavez for being too confrontational and has echoed right-wing criticisms of decisions taken by the Chavez government as "dangerous for a real democracy", Kozlov reported.

Lugo argued that "individual leaders can cause polarisation", which he said was occurring in Bolivia. "I will not be a Paraguayan Morales ... Paraguay will have to pursue its own political destiny."

Replying to Duarte's allegations, Chavez said: "I laughed to myself, when I saw this character ... Once again we are attacked that we are butting in to internal affairs in a neighbouring country that is in an electoral process."

"What don't they accuse us of?", Chavez asked. "Why? Because they are afraid of us, they are afraid of the revolution, they are afraid of the people; the oligarchs of this continent and the North American Empire are afraid of us."

It remains unclear in what direction Lugo will seek to take Paraguay — for instance, whether he will seek to take his government into a close alliance with the anti-imperialist "axis of hope" led by Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia (as President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and President Rafael Correa in Ecuador did after winning elections in December 2006). Another potential path is that of nominally leftist governments such as President Tabare Vasquez's government in Uruguay, which has largely maintained the status quo.

Regardless, the bringing to an end decades of right-wing rule is a massive victory for the Paraguayan people and a sign of the winds of change sweeping the rebellious continent of Latin America.

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