Venezuela’s Chavez Congratulates Paraguay’s New President Lugo

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated Paraguay's President-elect, the progressive former bishop, Fernando Lugo, on his historic victory on Sunday night. Chavez also denied accusations of Venezuelan interference in the election, calling these expressions of fear.
Former Bishop Fernando Lugo salutes to supporters during his first campaign appearance for the presidency of Paraguay (EFE).

Asunción, Paraguay, April 21, 2008 (– Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated Paraguay's President-elect, the progressive former bishop, Fernando Lugo, on his historic victory on Sunday night. According to Venezuela's Ministry of Foreign Relations, he made the comments by telephone, and "took advantage of the opportunity to recognize the impeccable day of democracy, had by the Paraguayan people… who demonstrated their political maturity."

Chavez and Lugo agreed on the importance of continuing to work towards the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) and "both presidents expressed their desires to meet as soon as possible in order to talk about cooperation plans," read a communiqué from the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication (MINCI).

The conversation came on the heels of Paraguay's marathon Election Day, where approximately 65% of registered Paraguayans participated in one of the most important civic events in the history of the country. Opposition candidate, and member of the Patriotic Alliance for Change, Fernando Lugo was declared victor shortly after 9pm, when, his closest competitor, Blanca Olevar, conceded due to the "irreversible" incoming results in his favor.

Lugo won with over 40% of the votes, and more than 10 points ahead of the conservative Olevar. The results were a landmark in Paraguayan history, as Lugo broke the six-decade grip of the Colorado party over the Paraguayan government.

With the win, Paraguay becomes the latest Latin American country to make a turn towards the left. Lugo, known as the "bishop of the poor", preached for many years in Paraguay's poorest state, San Pedro. He resigned as bishop last year in order to lead the Patriotic Alliance for Change, a hodgepodge of campesinos, social movements, and leftist political parties united to do exactly what it did yesterday: break the unilateral Colorado party system.

The win puts the South American trading block, MERCOSUR, directly in the hands of only progressive governments: Venezuela, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil.

Paraguay's lame-duck President, Colorado party member Nicanor Duarte Frutos may have called Chavez a "great democrat" after the Venezuelan president accepted the results of last year's Referendum defeat, and the Paraguayan President played a fairly integral role as MERCOSUR president. However, he changed his tune during Paraguay's presidential campaign, lashing out at Venezuela.

Duarte accused President Chavez of funding the Lugo campaign and made numerous statements warning Paraguayans that Venezuelan and Ecuadoran "disrupters" were coming to Paraguay in an attempt to destabilize the elections.

"Important groups very close to President Chavez are collaborating with the ex-bishop Fernando Lugo," said Duarte earlier this week.

"Three days ago I laughed to myself, when I saw this character… Once again we are attacked that we are butting in to internal affairs in a neighboring country that is in an electoral process," said Chavez on Saturday in response to Duarte's statements.

"What don't they accuse us of?" asked Chavez, during his speech, which was televised on the state-Venezuelan station. "Why? Because they are afraid of us, they are afraid of the revolution, they are afraid of the people; the oligarchs of this continent and the North American Empire are afraid of us."

Despite Duarte's repeated accusations last week, that Venezuela was butting in to Paraguay, it appears that it didn't have an effect at the polls, where voters overwhelmingly chose Lugo, a potential Chavez ally.

Lugo takes charge of Paraguay on August 15. Until then, it is difficult to say if he will follow in the footsteps of more radical Latin American leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Ecuador's Rafael Correa, or if he will chose a more restrained liberal democracy position, such as Chile's Michelle Bachellet or Uruguay's Tabare Vasquez.