Beyond scandal, Paraguay's president faces deeper challenges
The revelation of Fernando Lugo's affairs as a priest may be less of a problem than the stagnation many say characterizes his government.
The historic presidential victory of a former leftist priest last year in Paraguay, which ended six decades of one-party rule, was owed in no small part to his reputation as the "bishop of the poor." Fernando Lugo was seen as a man of the church who could bring ethics and morality to a country marred by backdoor deals and rampant corruption.Skip to next paragraph
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A year later, the slogan attached to President Lugo probably does more harm than good: He is now embroiled in a paternity scandal and has admitted to fathering at least one child while he was a Roman Catholic bishop.
While some opposition politicians called for his resignation, the scandal alone is unlikely to undo his administration, say political analysts here.
But it has highlighted his vulnerabilities. Although he recently scored a significant victory with the renegotiation of an energy deal with Brazil, for most of his first year voters have felt frustrated. More than half of the Paraguayans surveyed in a June poll said he had done little to fulfill his campaign promises.
His supporters say it is not his fault: Unrealistic expectations after the country's enormous political shift and a powerful opposition are obstacles to change. To his critics, however, passivity and political inexperience have made Lugo ineffectual at best, after he was hailed as the new leftist of Latin America.
"This could be a lost opportunity to advance the country," says Jose Maria Costa, a political columnist in Asunción who says Mr. Lugo has been unable to forge consensus and move his agenda forward. Mr. Costa says it could signal the return of the status quo in the next election, despite factions in the Colorado party, which ruled for decades. "If this experiment doesn't work, Paraguay could go back to the way it was, and for a long time."
Expectations were unrealistic
When Lugo, who was best known as a priest trained in liberation theology, was elected last year, Paraguay was one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranked No. 138 out of 179 countries by Transparency International. More than a third of the population lives in poverty, and land distribution in this agricultural nation is one of the most unequal in the region, after former dictator Alfredo Stroessner and his Colorado successors gave away more than 6.8 million hectares to fewer than 2,000 people, according to data in a forthcoming book on Paraguay by American University assistant professor Miguel Carter.
Lugo's campaign "unleashed expectations out of proportion with the reality of what changes realistically could be made," says Domingo Rivarola, the director of the Latin American School of Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Asunción. Already, indigenous rural peasants, who were among his strongest supporters, have set up an encampment in a plaza in downtown Asunción to protest inaction on land reform.