A former Roman Catholic Bishop, strongly influenced by the "liberation theology" of the Latin American Catholic Church of the 1980s, is the front-runner in the race for Paraguay's 2008 Presidential election.
Fernando Lugo, "the Bishop of the poor," is leading all other candidates -- including that of the ruling Colorado party, likely to be current President Nicanor Duarte Frutos. The Colorado Party is the party of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, the right-wing autocrat who ruled Paraguay as a dictatorship for 35 years, from 1954 through 1989.
Lugo, the Bishop of San Pedro for ten years until his resignation in 2005, is seen as a fighter for social justice and an advocate for the poor. He resigned from the priesthood in December of 2006 in order to run for the Presidency. Opponents on the right attempt to link him with Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. Lugo disagrees:
For me, the value of the Venezuelan experiment is the social dimension, the better distribution of wealth for the benefit of the poor majority.But, in his view, Chavez's method is inappropriate since it is
linked to a strong dose of statism, totally at the service of one personwhich
is dangerous for a real democracy.He sees himself not as of the left or the right, but of the people:
As I am accustomed to saying, hunger and unemployment, like the lack of access to health and education, have no ideology.He notes that
there are too many differences between the small group of 500 families who live with a first world standard of living while the great majority lives in a poverty that borders on misery.Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Paraguayan Church appear to be conspiring to keep Lugo from being elected. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, denied Lugo's request, founded in Canon Law, that he be released from the priesthood for "the common good." His only altertnative, according to Catholic Canon lawyers who reviewed the case, is apostasy and excommunication. Similarly, the Paraguayan Constitution forbids clergy to run for office, and the Church's refusal to release Lugo from his priestly duties might be used as a Constitutional argument to disqualify him.