Sunday, April 20, 2008

Paraguay's unexpected left turn

Sunday's historic victory by left-leaning Fernando Lugo in Paraguay's presidential election could be more bad news from South America for Bush administration foreign policy. Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, defeated Blanca Ovelar of the Colorado Party, which has ruled Paraguay for more than 60 years. "You've decided that Paraguay will be free and independent," Lugo said Sunday at an ecstatic outdoor rally in Asuncion, the capital. "We've made history with these elections." Lugo is believed to be aligned with Venezuela's virulently anti-U.S. president, Hugo Chavez, and his close ally, Bolivia's Evo Morales, but Lugo's rhetoric during the campaign was moderate and he pledged to be "independent." The U.S. State Department said it planned to work with Lugo, who got 41 percent of the vote, according to the Los Angeles Times. Ovelar, the first woman to run for president of Paraguay, conceded defeat Sunday night after finishing with 31 percent. She was supported by outgoing President Nicanor Duarte Frutos, who leaves office in August. Retired Gen. Lino Oviedo, recently freed from prison after being jailed for plotting a coup in the 1990s, received 22 percent of the vote. Among the major issues in the campaign were land reform and Lugo's promise to charge more for hydroelectric power sold to Brazil and Argentina. Paraguay, a poor country marked by widespread corruption where nearly 40 percent of citizens live in poverty, is the world's fourth-largest exporter of soybeans. The Colorado Party came to power in 1947 and backed the brutal 35-year dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, but helped to oust him in 1989.

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