Maybe Bush Can't Flee to Paraguay After All
Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 06:48:56 PM PDT
Maybe Bush won't find Paraguay so appealing after even that corrupt and
undemocratic country manages to elect a leftist candidate as president.
You've no doubt heard the unproven rumors of the Bush family's purchase of a
huge tract of land in Paraguay. Do a tag search on PARAGUAY and you'll find
plenty of diaries. It's a joke that crops up frequently in the comments as
well. For one quick and suitably skeptical diary, try Elwood Dowd's from a
month or so ago.
But we aren't here to talk about that. Rather, I'd like to offer a brief look
at Fernando Lugo Méndez, the liberation theology ex-priest who leads in the
polls for Paraguay's presidential election next year.
Follow me below the fold for more (and OK, we can have a little fun with the
a.. DebtorsPrison's diary :: ::
Paraguay has been ruled for over sixty years by the Colorado Party. The most
notable stretch of those years is, of course, the 35 years state-of-siege
dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. But now, a former priest is challenging
opponents of both church and state to take Paraguay in a different direction:
Known as "the bishop of the poor," Msgr. Fernando Lugo Méndez has been
strongly influenced by liberation theology, which emerged in Latin America in
the 1960s and contends that the Roman Catholic Church has a special obligation
to defend the oppressed and downtrodden. But he is reluctant to position
himself on the political spectrum, saying that he is interested in solutions,
"As I am accustomed to saying, hunger and unemployment, like the lack of
access to health and education, have no ideology," he said in an interview
here. "My discourse, my person and my testimony are above political parties,
whose own members are desirous of change and want an end to a system that
favors narrow partisan interests over those of the country...."
Monsignor Lugo, 55, is a spellbinding orator in both Spanish and Guaraní, the
indigenous language spoken by the peasants and urban poor who make up a
majority of the population in this landlocked country of 6.5 million. In
speeches, he rails against corruption and injustice, saying, "There are too
many differences between the small group of 500 families who live with a
first-world standard of living while the great majority live in a poverty that
borders on misery."
The Financial Times has this to say:
Lugo's own beliefs and policies have yet to be clearly defined, although his
social commitments are clear and he is influenced by liberation theology, which
holds that the church is obliged to help the poor. He admits to being "inspired
by some elements of socialism" as well as admiring certain policies of
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales.
"It's one thing to respect Chavez, but we cannot follow that model here as we
don't produce 3m barrels of oil a day like Venezuela does. We can't go around
nationalising everything," says Lugo, who says he also respects the more
moderate models of Brazil and Chile. "The large majorities here are excluded,
the workers, the indigenous people - I don't want anyone to be left out, not
the industrial leaders and private businesses either."
Lugo currently leads in the polls, but the presidential elections aren't until
April 20, 2008. Meanwhile, both the Catholic church and the reining political
powers in Paraguay are seeking to derail Lugo's candidacy.
In announcing his campaign for the presidency last December, Lugo renounced the
priesthood, saying "From today on, my cathedral will be the nation." This step
was necessary, as the Vatican threatens priests who become involved in politics
with excommunication, and the Paraguayan Constitution forbids clergy from
running for office. However, the two sides have put him in a double bind, with
the church declaring that the priesthood is a sacred lifelong commitment that
can never be fully renounced, and current Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte
threatening to have Lugo's candidacy declared unconstitutional because
according to the church he remains a priest.
What seems to be keeping his candidacy alive thus far is his strong support
among the Paraguayan people, restive after decades of oppression, corruption
and poverty. A recent poll "in the Asunción newspaper Última Hora indicated
that 40.8% of Paraguayans intended to vote for Lugo, against just 9% for the
probable ruling party candidate supported by the current president, Nicanor
Duarte." As the Angus Reid Global Monitor puts it:
Lugo is steadily winning popular support with his soft-spoken style. The
prospective candidate claims he is no saviour of the poor, but insists he will
address poverty, hunger, and the lack of proper health and education systems if
elected. He asserts he will pay special attention to the marginalized
indigenous majority, too. He is fluent in Guarani, Paraguay's official
indigenous language. He refuses to enter the superficial discussion on whether
he would align Paraguay with the left-leaning governments of Bolivia and
Venezuela, saying he admires their social policies but disagrees with their
taste for authoritarianism.
If Lugo manages to surmount the fierce battle the government is about to
fight against him-both the Church and the Supreme Court are strongly influenced
by the Colorados-Lugo could lead Paraguay into an appealing new era of
renovation. His seemingly apolitical discourse, contrary to what Duarte and his
allies insist, is prudent and sophisticated, and his sole participation in a
presidential campaign would already be a victory for Paraguay.
OK, I promised a little bit of fun over the rumors of the Bush family purchase
of a huge tract of land in the remote Chaco region of Paraguay. There are all
kinds of conspiracy theories about the buy...that the Bush family is in cahoots
with the Reverend Moon (who also supposedly own a lot of land down there) to
establish a global dominion regime, or that he's after the natural gas reserves
in adjacent Bolivia, or that he's looking for a base to overthrow Evo Morales
in Bolivia, or that he wants to control the Guarani Aquifer, the
largest-in-South-America source of fresh water that lies below parts of Brazil,
Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Yes, it's easy to imagine all sorts of nefarious plots. But you know, if it
were true that Bush planned to flee to Paraguay, maybe there is a simpler
explanation. Maybe he just likes the way politics works there. We already
know about Stroessner's brutal 35 years. But even before that, Paraguay had
it's share of extreme strongmen. From 1814-1840, Paraguay was ruled by "El
Supremo" Gaspar Rodriguez Francia, who closed colleges, post offices and
newspapers, who closed borders and imprisoned opponents, who banned parties and
who decreed that every marriage be personally approved by him. In other words,
such men as Stroessner and Rodriguez Francia are just the sort of leaders
George W. Bush most admires.
The legacy of these centuries of brutal rule continue to warp life in Paraguay
today. The Financial Times puts it succinctly:
The Colorado party is divided between politicians who indulge in "unbridled
corruption", and those who prefer "to administer corrupt practices in a more
rational and sustainable way", he says.
C'mon! Isn't that the perfect description of the Bush administration! It's no
wonder that Bush fantasizes about living in what to him must sound like
Here's hoping Fernando Lugo Méndez can break the cycle and confiscates Bush's
If you read Spanish, Lugo has an occasional blog on the Paraguayan newspaper