Latin America moves a bit more to the left

After 61 years of centre-right hegemony of the Partido Colorado, of which the most infamous exponent was the dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) and the last Óscar Nicanor Duarte Frutos who during his 5 year mandate executed a reasonable social-economic policy, we see (as I some time ago wrote in my post “The red rascals of Latin America”), now a clear move to the left after the conquest of the presidential elections in Paraguay last Sunday by Fernando Lugo, an ex-bishop and advocate of the liberation theology.
With more than 80% of the 2,8 million votes counted, of which 40,17% in his favour and leading his closest opponent, Bianca Ovelar, an ex-minister of education, with almost 10% Lugo claimed the victory.

The today 56 year old Lugo became a Roman Catholic priest in 1977 and was during 5 years a missionary in Ecuador, where he came in contact with the liberation theology. As bishop in Paraguay he supported the impoverished small farmers in their struggle against the large landowners.
According to the New York Times it is however a debatable question whether Lugo can be president. The constitution of Paraguay prohibits ecclesiastical officers to fulfil politic functions. After Fernando Lugo voluntarily resigned and proclaimed his political ambitions Christmas 2006, Rome officially refused to accept his resignation. The NYT reports that the Vatican never has honoured the resignation, but other sources consider this proposition a non-issue, as Lugo himself has abandoned the priesthood, but still it might lead to some constitutional lawsuit.

Having been candidate for the “Aliança Patriótica para a Mudança” (Patriotic Alliance for Change), Lugo has the support of social movements, centre and left wing political parties and the Partido Liberal Radical Autêntico (PLRA), the right wing radical liberal party.
This alliance is a bit strange, as the Partido Liberal, the second largest party in the country, is typical right wing conservative and always has been in the opposition, at the other hand the other parties are left wing socialistic and are heavenly supported by small farmer movements. This might arise some problems when Lugo starts to shape his government.
But the ex-bishop must have an extensive experience beating up against the wind regarding his proclaimed liberation theology and at the same time being a priest of the ultra right orthodox and very conservative Roman Catholic Church, which always choose the wealthy side of society in particular in countries as Paraguay. The Church still paints the liberation theology as a Marxist movement

When he announced his candidacy for the presidency his rivals put him in one line with the leftist leaders that emerged in Latin America over the last few years. They did not compare him with moderate social-democrats as Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Lula of Brazil, but with Hugo Chavez or Rafael Correa, the leftist president of Ecuador and now Lugo is definitively the last one in the line of acting leftist oriented presidents in Latin America, where Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay leaded the way.

The new president faces an almost impossible task to solve the large variety of problems within a mandate of 5 years (the constitution does not allow re-election). First of all, there is the corruption. Since the dictatorial reign of General Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay has been transformed into one of the most corrupt countries of Latin America. As a consequence more than 33% of the populace lives below the poverty level. He has to honour his promises to the poor small farmers to regulate a more honest division of the available land, which certainly will face heavy opposition of the large landowners. And on top of all that, he will not have any money available to execute his plans, as the budget is tied up and all important and less important public offices are controlled by Partido Colorado supporters.
Putting it as priority number one during his election period Lugo has to find a solution for the dispute with his neighbour Brazil, regarding the power plant of Itaipu. Lugo wants to renegotiate the price Brazil is paying for the energy supplied by this bi-national power plant. The hydro-electrical power plant in Itaipu is located at the border of the two countries and belongs to neither of them. Both countries could claim 50% of the generated energy, but Brazil consumes 90% as Paraguay does not need more than 10%. Lugo argues that Brazil is paying too low a price for the energy, which belongs to the Paraguayan part, but is purchased by Brazil. If there will be no new agreement and the energy supply will be interrupted a large part of the industrial park of São Paulo (responsible for 35% of Brazilian’s GNP) will come to a stand still.

That the issue is of high priority might be concluded from the fact that shortly after the ballot boxes closed and the first polls indicated a victory for Lugo, the daily ABC Color, the most important paper in the country, came with an article stating that the first priority of the new government should be the renegotiation of the Itaipu-contract.

Albeit Lula is ideologically close to Lugo, the two have steered clear one from the other for a long time, but the coming days should intensify the contact, in spite of Lula’s public statement that it is unthinkable to renegotiate Itaipu. A second Paraguayan-Brazilian war is of course out of the question and what is Brazilian natural leadership of Latin America worth, if it is not willing to help an impoverished neighbour.

photo’s: Reuters