Paraguay’s Lugo: A Genuine South American Hero and a Worthy Challenge to Brazil

, by Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA)

As many Latin American policy analysts have suggested, the election of moderate-left Fernando Lugo and his Alianza Patriotica para el Cambio coalition is yet another manifestation of a South American referendum in favor of a socialist-tinged democracy. Undoubtedly, Lugo’s inauguration marked a transformative moment in the government’s position towards Paraguay’s longstanding agribusiness-export model. This is an issue dominated by socioeconomic political tensions, which are likely to break out between the country’s Brazilian landowners and irredentist Paraguayans. Meanwhile, watchful government officials in Brasilia are carefully monitoring the developments next door.

Lugo’s presidential campaign for social change had drawn intense support from Paraguay’s campesinos in a country where 1 percent of the population owns 77 percent of the land. On April 9, ten days before his election, Lugo, a former bishop, staged a “‘march for hope’” in the capital city of Asunción, with 5,000 supporters in attendance. Feeding the hopes of the crowd, Lugo referred to the brasiguayos, or longstanding Brazilian land-owning elite residents of Paraguay, as a “mafia” and held a moment of silence for two campesinos recently killed in land struggles in Tekojoja. Assuring his supporters that “’the mafia’s reign [was] coming to an end,’” Lugo’s triumphant early victory speech did not fully indicate the complex reality of the issue. Read more