ASUNCION, Paraguay — After his historic presidential win on Sunday, which ended six decades of one-party rule in Paraguay, former Roman Catholic Bishop Fernando Lugo said Monday that he wants to build an alliance between private enterprise and the state.
Many are wondering whether Lugo will follow the neo-socialist path of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua or whether he'll adopt a more free-market approach to stimulating the economy of his impoverished country of 6.8 million people.
In an interview with McClatchy, the 56-year-old president-elect said he'd follow a "Paraguayan line". "We need to use our creativity and create a new Paraguayan model that comes from the Paraguayan reality," Lugo said.
He also said he looked forward to meeting Chavez, which the Venezuelan government said Monday will happen "as soon as possible."
"We have to get to know each other some time," Lugo said of Chavez. "So many things have happened, and we've never met. He wants to meet me, and I want to meet him."
Even though Lugo has insisted that he doesn't belong to any ideological camp, the leaders of Latin America's more radical left welcomed him as one of their own Monday.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega spoke of "the feeling that today we Latin Americans share, of counting on one more brother in building this alliance of the people for true democracy and independence."
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said, "Fernando Lugo's triumph is ... one more stone for the foundation of this new just, sovereign, independent and, why not, socialist Latin America."
Known as "the bishop of the poor," Lugo had worked for years with the country's poorest citizens before hitting the national stage in March 2006, when he addressed a massive anti-government rally. Lugo was a follower of the church's leftist Liberation Theology wing, which preaches defending and helping the poor as a vital part of worship.
Lugo resigned from the priesthood in December 2006 to run as president, although the Vatican hasn't accepted his resignation. Church policy prohibits clergy from running for political office.
Nonetheless, Lugo won a resounding victory Sunday by capturing 41 percent of the vote. His victory not only added one more apparent left-leaning leader to a region dominated by such governments, but it also ended the 61-year reign of Paraguay's Colorado Party, the world's longest-ruling party.
The president-elect has vowed to fight endemic corruption, to distribute resources and land more equitably and to renegotiate unpopular energy treaties with neighboring Argentina and Brazil. He also has said that his top priority will be reducing poverty in what is South America's second poorest country, behind Bolivia.
Lugo won't be able to get too close to Chavez because Lugo's Patriotic Alliance for Change coalition is dominated by the center-right Liberal Party, which opposes the Venezuelan leader, said political analyst Alfredo Boccia Paz.
"He'll move forward with a lot of caution," Boccia Paz said. "He's obligated to be moderate because of his alliance."
Many believe Lugo will appoint a Liberal Party ally to the country's all-important economic ministry, indicating a more free-market approach to development, said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Latin America project coordinator for the conservative U.S.-based Cato Institute.
Despite the rampant speculation about his political affinities, Lugo has so far refused to be labeled.
"We value the democratic processes of progressive governments of the region," Lugo said in a Friday news conference. "Each time we're more convinced that Paraguay needs to embark on its own process."
Asked in the Monday interview whether he'd investigate the human rights abuses of dictator Alfredo Stroessner's 35-year rule, Lugo said: "Human rights is a central axis of our policies. You can't even think of democracy if there are no human rights."
Since taking power, leftist governments in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile have prosecuted dictatorship-era officials for human rights abuses and opened new investigations into the history.
Lugo suggested he wouldn't go so far.
"There already is a commission of truth and justice that has been set up, and we'll consolidate that and move forward," he said.