Sunday, August 17, 2008

History in the Making

August 15, 2008

"Today marks the end of an elitist Paraguay, a secretive Paraguay, a Paraguay famous for corruption. Today marks the beginning of a Paraguay in which the authorities will be relentless against thieves."*

Fernando Lugo, the former bishop who won the presidential elections on 20th April, was sworn in today as the first non-Colorado Party president for 61 years. In a break from protocol, he wore a Paraguayan hand-embroidered shirt, without tie or jacket, and wore his trademark sandals rather than shoes. His image identifies him with his people; with the marginalised and half-forgotten communities of indigenous and disadvantaged Paraguayans, rather than the political and social elite.

He was elected on a platform of bringing change after so many years of Colorado rule. His manifesto focused on tackling poverty, corruption and the lack of jobs, which are seen by Paraguayans as being the reasons the country has not experienced the economic growth of its neighbours.

He is radical in more than just his dress: Last night he stated in an interview that he would not be taking a salary for his work as president. He said he didn't enter politics to make money or become rich. THIS IS HUGE in a country where politicians who are given positions of more power are usually soon seen to be buying bigger houses and better cars.

I get the impression that here is a man who really believes what he says he stands for. His work as a priest and bishop was among the poor and marginalised, and it is apparent his policies are more than just election pledges, but actually come from his heart. His voice breaks and he actually sheds tears when talking about justice for the poor.

After being sworn in, he started his speech in GuaranĂ­, the native language spoken by the majority of Paraguayans. He addressed the indigenous communities first, and asked their permission to give the rest of his speech in Spanish. As well as talking about the need to tackle corruption and for land reform, he made it clear that the change people are so hopeful about is not just a matter of policies, but is everyone's responsibility:

"The building of this new Paraguay has a brick in your hands."

"Change is not an electoral issue, it's a cultural gamble, perhaps the most important one in Paraguay's history."

The challenge, he said, "will not be easy, but it will not be impossible."

Let's pray for him.

(this was written by Fiona Cooper, one our our team mates living here in Paraguay)

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