August 19, 2008
A former Catholic bishop named Fernando Lugo was inaugurated as president of Paraguay last Thursday, marking the first time in over a half century that control of government has changed from one party to another. Lugo was elected on a leftist-populist platform as the candidate of the Patriotic Alliance for Change (which he founded), promising to give land to the poor. Even before he took office, some of those people staged invasions of an hacienda in the north, an indication of the unstable political situation the election has brought about. The Catholic Church gave Lugo a special dispensation for the unusual "career switch" from the clergy to the public sphere. See CNN.com.
Until the long-time dictator Alfredo Stroessner resigned in 1989, Paraguay was an island of backwardness and stagnation in a sea of socio-political tumult. During the 1990s, there was a struggle for power among various leaders of the Colorado Party (of which Stroessner had been a member), marked by a series of corruption scandals and assassinations. The country is slowly catching up to the rest of South America, but lacking industry or much in the way of natural resources, the economy remains heavily dependent on traffic in contraband.
Bolivian President Evo Morales claimed victory in the referendum held two Sundays ago, but some governors belonging to the opposition won as well, yielding a mixed result overall. The governor of Santa Cruz (which is the center of the movement for greater regional autonomy in Bolivia) won by a margin of nearly 70 percent, while governor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, lost his election. He refused to abide by the result, however, claiming that the vote was unconstitutional. (He leads a right-wing party.) See BBC and the Washington Post.
The complaint by Reyes Villa has merit, as there is no provision for such a referendum in Bolivia; it was arranged as part of an ad hoc compromise to prevent a civil war. Constitutionalism in Bolivia is weak, however, so that argument doesn't count for very much in any case. The referendum amounted to a confirmation of the status quo of divided government, as the Bolivian people themselves remain sharply divided on the direction their country should take. It may take some time to evaluate the probable long-term consequences, as the deadlock continues.