The World from Berlin: 'Clean Elections and a Fair Change' in Paraguay

Another right-wing domino falls in South America as Fernando Lugo, a suspended bishop, wins a landmark election in Paraguay. But just how left-wing is he? German papers argue that a fresh dose of liberation theology can only help South America.

In Paraguay, newspapers welcomed this weekend's change in power with an "amen." In Germany, commentators are also greeting the shift.
AFP

In Paraguay, newspapers welcomed this weekend's change in power with an "amen." In Germany, commentators are also greeting the shift.

Fernando Lugo, the Catholic bishop who hung up his robe to enter politics, has broken the world's longest spell of single-party rule by winning a presidential election in Paraguay on Sunday.

Most commentators have noticed that his victory belongs to a general lurch to the left in South American politics; but he's not a latter-day Communist or an anti-American firebrand like Hugo Chavez, either. He's a milder product of liberation theology, the 1960s-era Catholic movement that championed the cause of poor Latin Americans against right-wing authoritarian governments. Paraguay has had one of those for 61 years -- longer than China and North Korea have been Communist.

Paraguay's repressive Partido Colorado, which lost on Sunday, first came to power in 1947. After 1954 it became the tool of a half-German general named Alfredo Stroessner -- the son of a Bavarian immigrant and a Paraguayan woman -- who turned Paraguay into a corrupt, one-man regime. Even after Stroessner stepped down in 1989, Partido Colorado dominated Paraguay's government -- until this weekend, when Lugo's victory inspired two separate Monday-morning newspapers to run an identical headline: "Amen!"

German papers across the political spectrum on Tuesday are showing the same sense of relief -- only in measured tones, and without much theological fervor.

The right-leaning daily Die Welt writes:

"It makes you rub your eyes in amazement: Clean elections and a fair change of power in Asunción (the capital)? But the Colorado Party, in power for over 60 years, has in fact allowed it to happen. As early as the night of the election (Sunday), Colorado candidate Blanca Ovelar gave her concession speech. The voting shenanigans many people had feared never surfaced, and there was no long delay in announcing results. The supposedly so-corrupt smuggler state in the heart of South America has emerged as a proto-democracy."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"With the election of ex-bishop Fernando Lugo, Paraguay has joined the club of new left-wing and social democratic regimes in South America. But it remains to be seen whether Lugo and his idelogically diverse Patriotic Alliance for Change will govern in the style of a left-wing populist like Hugo Chavez or take a moderate, social democratic course as in Brazil (under Lula da Silva)."

Paraguay's president elect Fernando Lugo: Now it's time to fight corruption.
REUTERS

Paraguay's president elect Fernando Lugo: Now it's time to fight corruption.

"But the change of power is nevertheless good news. It's a victory of democracy over the powerful and corrupt party apparatus of the Partido Colorado -- which except for the Peronist Party in Argentinia is the last ruling dinosaur of South America ... The enormous sleaze built up over 61 years of Partido Colorado rule can now be chipped away."

Under the headline, "The Late Triumph of Liberation Theology," the left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The media guessing game has started: How red is the 'Red Bishop' really? What's his take on Chavez? Is Lugo a populist, or more of a well-behaved social democrat? Against these labels it doesn't help much when Lugo says Paraguay will find its own path. So he reminds people that he's bringing something new -- namely the 'religious element' -- with the hope of easing people's minds. For him, he wants to suggest, liberation theology is more of a theological than a (Marxist) ideological option. His other public statements have also lined him up with moderates."

"But it's this 'religious element' that makes (Lugo) a unique hope for the region. Liberation theology has been the decisive ferment in Latin American social movements for decades, and it paved the way for (recent) victories by Lula in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador."

"Among the most concrete and believable promises of this left-wing man of the cloth is that he will combat crony capitalism and fight for more representation in daily politics for all people in Paraguay. That would be something new for Latin America, where messianism and personality cults come with the political territory."

-- Michael Scott Moore, 12:30pm CET

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