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7/26/08

Paraguay gets ready

President elect Fernando Lugo proves to the world he
has a left hand. And a nice smile.


On August 15th, Fernando Lugo becomes the new President of Paraguay. It promises to be a special occasion, not least because it will be the first time in 60 years that Paraguay's Colorado (Red) party has not held executive power. Lugo has already set his stall out by visiting Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua in quick succession, and although in gringolandia judgement is being withheld there's not going to be much surprise down here when his gov't turns out as socialist (at least with a small "S").

So what to expect from the Lugo gov't? Well for a start, many Paraguayan political analysts say that Lugo may be left leaning, but he will find it tough to push his proposed reforms through the notoriously corrupt National Congress (more on those guys later). His party is made up of a centre-left to left-left alliance, each with their own list of important things to do, and in that way Lugo's situation reminds me of that of Studmuffin Correa and the ongoing balancing act he is forced to perform in Ecuador. As for a list of things to do, a good idea of the main issues can be found in the respected polling firm "Transparencia Paraguay" (no translation needed) and its recently published national survey available on site in powerpoint (click on the blue link marked "encuesta"). Angus Reid Monitor reported on the survey in English (link available here). In its survey, TP found that unemployment was the main issue to be tackled by the incoming gov't, with 38.6% of people voting it the top concern. Then came crime (19.9%), corruption (18.1%) and economic crisis/hunger (8.5%) as main concerns.

TP has been applauded for its work on fighting corruption in Paraguay, and a problem it is with 96% of Paraguayans saying their country is "very corrupt". Another part of the latest survey highlights the most corrupt institutions in the country, which according to the survey are:
  • The National Government
  • The National Police Force
  • The National Congress
  • The Transit Police Force
When the most corrupt sectors of society are those that make and enforce the laws, it's not the kind of corruption that is easily fought, it has to be said. So the fruitfly analyses of the close-to-unreadable Latin Business Chronicle that call for an immediate shift to a free market economy (or in other words, put the corrupt institutions into direct contact with foreign direct investment capital) are as laughable as they are irrelevant. Honestly, these people should cross the Rio Grande from time to time.

What we are likely to see is Lugo attacking the issues of poverty and employment before starting to weed out the corrupt, because those problems are easier to tackle. For sure, there will be howls of commie from the people who are never happy with anything situated left of Cheney, but realpolitik will lead the way. Lugo is likely to demand (and get) more revenue from Paraguay's share of electricity production at the massive Itaipu generation plant it shares with Brazil, and with this extra revenue set up social missions along the lines of the successful bodies in Venezuela.

It promises to be a fragile few years in Paraguay, and if things go wrong for him it should be remembered that in surveys last year, over 50% of the population said it was happy to live under a military dictatorship. There's a long way to go before the country is weaned off that idea, and once the honeymoon period is over Lugo will have a tough job on his hands. I wish him the best of luck, especially as I have fond memories of my times in Paraguay. It's difficult to find a friendlier race of people.