Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A new president for a troubled country

Fernando Lugo, on the Feast of the Assumption, became president of Paraguay in Asunción. This was historic: from 1954 to 1989 General Alfredo Stroessner was dictator, his party lost the latest election, and allowed Lugo to be inaugurated. That was a first in Paraguay. Lugo is a recently laïcised bishop, Rome consented, though not easily or quickly. The bishop for the poor is now the president of the poor. Paraguay has been a highly, visible example of fascist corruption. The new president has much work to do. He has refused a salary. He appears in native shirt and sandals, and speaks Guarani. His presidency will be different than his predecessors.

Members of Fernando Lugo’s family were often imprisoned, and or, exiled by Stroessner’s dictatorship. As a young man, Lugo became a rural teacher, and found his calling when the people had no priest. He joined the Society of the Divine Word, was ordained on the Feast of the Assumption 1977, and went as a missionary to Ecuador for five years. After a year back in Paraguay, he was exiled. He went to Rome. He came back in 1987, and in in 1994 became bishop of the poorest diocese, San Pedro. He resigned in 2005 and began campaigning.

Bishop, now President, Lugo has not come easily to office; already two former presidents have tried to form a coup. Centuries ago, in and about, the same country the jesuits administered reductions (reducciones de indios). These Jesuit Reductions produced a self-sustaining community of christianised, and civilised, but not europeanised indians. In the movie, The Mission, the story was told. The Guarani were the chief indian nation, then in Paraguay, and are that now. They wanted to hold their land in peace and freedom. That is still the problem now. Many indians and mestizos have little, or no, property and rights. With the violent end of the reductions, and the expulsion of the jesuits, the indians were robbed, killed and enslaved.

To-day the ruling families run smuggling operations that enrichen themselves, of course; now smuggling is supposedly illegal. It is done matter-of-factly. Much of the farmland is owned by brasilians. The use of toxic pesticides and deforestation is rampant. The landless native peasantry is powerless, but they have elected a man to champion their interests, and of course, he is in danger.

Now, Paraguay has a great river that runs through it, with many tributaries and falls. Paraguay’s water power generates electricity for Brasil, and Mr. Lugo wants a renegotiated deal. Paraguay is landlocked and has two powerful neighbors in Brasil and Argentina. Foreign relations will be very important.

Recently, he was in New York City, at the United Nations. He was offered a meeting with Sarah Palin, he declined, he found it laughable. She did speak to Kissinger, and the client presidents of Colombia, Georgia, Afghanistan and Iraq. He was not going to be a tool or prop of that campaign.

Mister Lugo has much to deal with. Many in his country have great confidence in him, and great hope for him. He came to power, legally, ending the world’s, longest, current period of one party rule. He is very familiar with liberation theology, so the corporate press will always call him a leftist. So far, the background information available has found him unassailable.

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