|Report From Paraguay on the Eve of Historic Elections|
|Written by Michael Fox|
|Friday, 18 April 2008 12:20|
By the time the Colorado candidate, Blanca Ovelar had finished her speech at Wednesday's close of the Colorado campaign, already tiny clusters of youth were swarming through Asuncion, covering lamp posts and walls with posters depicting the opposition candidate Fernando Lugo of the Patriotic Alliance for Change, as the anti-Christ, attempting to tie him to former members of the Paraguayan radical-left. "You Decide," reads the poster, with a reference to the Apocalypse, and the number 666.
Signs at the rally read, "Kidnapping has a cure (cura)", making a play on words with the word cura, which also means "priest" in Spanish.
Others have attempted to tie Lugo to the Colombian FARC guerrillas. Ovelar called him a "failed priest" on Wednesday evening, and Duarte told supporters that a Lugo win would be a disaster, which would "destroy the future of Paraguay."
Recently Duarte warned Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez not to lean in with his support for Lugo. At the close of Wednesday's Colorado campaign, Duarte, speaking in Guarani, once again referred to foreign agitators from Ecuador and Venezuela, which he says are going to try and destabilize the elections.
"Wherever these bandits think they are going to try something, nor the Uruguayans, or the Ecuadorians, or the Venezuelans will succeed," Duarte cried. "Because Paraguay is going to be filled with joy, because peace and development are going to rain, because the Colorado party is going to win the elections."
Meanwhile, the Colorado campaign may be attempting to paint Fernando Lugo and his supporters as the Anti-Christ, but not everyone is buying it. The former bishop called out last night at the close of his campaign, to over a hundred thousand supporters in downtown Asuncion, "Sunday will be a resurrection."
Nevertheless, the fear campaign - reminiscent of similar elections across Latin America - is disturbing, especially in a country with deep-seated fear for so long.
"Till now there is still a lot of fear there's a lot of fear because everything is done arbitrarily, justice doesn't work at all, money governs here, and political favors," said Marina Recalde Odone, an adamant Lugo supporter and a retired Asuncion school teacher at last night's event.
While the 35-year Paraguayan dictatorship under Alfredo Stroessner came to an end in 1989, the same Colorado party remained in control, as did the system.
"The fall of the dictatorship didn't mean anything but a change of the man in power, it didn't change the style of co-existence," says Recalde.
On the chilly evening of the close of the Colorado campaign, fifteen blocks away is a meeting for the Lugo campaigners who will be working on Sunday at election booths
across the country. A couple hundred individuals meet under the cloudy fall sky. A middle-aged man, with a ponytail, and large smile stares out in to the crowd. Juan Fernando Kurz, otherwise known as Pali, is the National Director of the Tekojoja movement campaign, a grassroots convergence of campesinos, social movements, and students, and one of the main groups supporting the Lugo candidacy.
"Practically, this is constitutional dictatorship," he explained to me earlier. "Because when we speak about democracy, without a doubt we should speak about grassroots participation, but also about the rights of the people to decide, to change, to modify, that the will of the majority is respected, and in this case we are before a government which is always the majority, and they continue with the same model that they had with Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship that lasted 35 years."
But now, before this crowd of hundreds he chooses the theme with which he will begin the evening's activities and training:
And that's what the Lugo campaign has their eyes fixed on. Over a hundred thousand jubilant Lugo supporters packed in to the Plaza in front of the National Congress last night for a musical marathon with such well-known international revolutionary artists as Victor Heredia, Teresa Parodi, and Daniel Viglietti.
"The bad news is that the thieves of the homeland, the traitors of the nation heritage, that kidnapped hope for so long, are still here, and the good news is that they only have 3 days left " cried Lugo, late in the evening, before the hundreds of multicolored flags, and an ecstatic crowd
Lugo is ahead in the polls. In one of the latest, by as much as 15 points compared to his closest challenger, but as Kurz explains, "you can't just win the polls, you have to win at the voting booth." According to Tekojoja's estimates, the Colorado party has 526,000 solid votes at the voting box. Lugo has 785,000 votes "at home", in other words, people who have affirmed that they will vote for him, but they won't know who will come out until voting day. "So," says Kurz, "our job is to make sure that everybody goes and votes." According to the Tekojoja campaign, the more people they can get out on voting day, the better chance they have of taking the elections.
With the help of the large network of campesinos, social movements, and diverse political parties, working in support of the campaign, it appears as though they may have a real chance to unseat the rule of Paraguay's entrenched Colorado party, which has governed this tiny South American country for more than 60 years.
But that is sometimes easier said than done. Lugo's closest contenders in Sunday's elections are both well established members of Paraguay's right: Ex-Colorado member, General Lino Oviedo, and the Colorado hopeful, former education minister, Blanca Ovelar. If elected, Ovelar would become Paraguay's first woman president; something which many Colorado supporters say is real change.
"I'm here by conviction, because I know that a woman is the true alternance for our country. It's the true change that we can lead," said Gloria Ailera, who was in attendance at the Wednesday night Colorado campaign festival and is government economist in nearby Aragua. "More than 54% of the voting population are women, and I'm confident that the women, especially mothers will place their vote this Sunday in her favor."
Ailera stressed that she went to the Colorado event upon her own accord, but rumors in the Lugo camp have it that government institutions required state employees to attend, and are now demanding they vote for Ovelar on Sunday. Such manoeuvring would not be out of place in Paraguay, considered to be one of the most corrupt countries in the Western Hemisphere. Fears are also widespread that the Colorado party may attempt additional fraud, and perhaps violence, if it appears as though Lugo is making gains on Sunday.
In an attempt to head off any potential fraud, hundreds of election observers are arriving through the OAS and other independent organizations to monitor Sunday's elections.
Along with the observers, thousands of Paraguayans who live abroad - because of forced exile during the dictatorship or for economic means - are returning home to vote in this weekend's elections. The Paraguayan media has covered the trainloads and airlines full of Paraguayans arriving from nearby Argentina or the United States. Lugo welcomed them all last night, and said he hoped that with this change they could come back home and reunite with their families.
Almost 3 million Paraguayans are registered to vote. Over 70% of the
voting population is expected to cast their ballot in Sunday's elections. On top of the Presidency, hundreds of local electoral seats across the country are up for grabs including the Paraguayan Senate, the Congress, the MERCOSUR parliament, the state governorships and municipal councils.
Campesinos are running an unprecedented number of candidates under the Tekojoja movement. Paraguay's campesinos have been increasingly affected by the growing genetically-modified multinational soy industry, which has put Paraguay at #4 in world soy cultivation, and which has increased violence and attacks against Paraguay's campesino population.
Two murders recently took place within the last month against campesino members of the Tekojoja movement, which is added to the more than 100 assassinations against organized campesinos in the Paraguayan countryside over the last two decades.
"This is the price that we are ready to pay, so that Paraguayans, in the future - live and are born in this country - have a different country," said Kurz on Wednesday evening, in defiance to the fear that the murders were intended to cause. "Today, I am 57, when I had 4 years, the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner took power, but I should tell you that all of the people that are my age always lived beneath the Colorado regime, so we want something better, we've been struggling for a long time, and in many ways, for something better. We are about to achieve it, and we confide in the democratic road to power, and a democratic form of administration for the future government."
Michael Fox is reporting on the Paraguayan elections for UpsideDownWorld.org. Stay tuned for more...
Listen to his report on the elections from Free Speech Radio News: