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PARAGUAY
“Land reform is fundamental and imminent”
4/3/2008
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Interview with presidential candidate Fernando Lugo

For the first time in the 61 years of uninterrupted rule by the Colorado Party a presidential candidate has a strong chance of becoming elected. Fernando Lugo, a charismatic former bishop from the San Pedro department, one of the most impoverished, rural areas of Paraguay. A national survey by pollster Ant Snead in early March showed Lugo with 34.8 percent of the vote. Ruling party candidate Blanca Ovelar had close to 30 percent, followed by former military officer coup-leader Lino Oviedo with 23 percent ahead of the April 20 election.

LATINAMERICA PRESS correspondent Gustavo Torres spoke with Lugo about his plans to reach the presidential palace.

What can Paraguay expect from a Lugo presidency?
Paraguay has to recover its dignity as a people and as a country; improve its image on a national and international level. Our country is known for corruption, for illegal activities, for contraband, for drug-trafficking. We have to work so that it is known for its honesty, its transparency, its heroism, its value for hard-work as it’s been in history.

We don’t want our country to be isolated among other nations. Our wish is to continue strengthening relationships of cooperation and mutual growth with social equality with neighboring countries.

Paraguay has a promising future if the citizenry organizes and is ready for a real change.

And how do you propose to achieve this?
By making the functions and applications for government positions transparent. Here, the optimal condition to be a public employee is to be a member of the government party. We want to employ people fit for the job.

Today people are revaluing transparent and honest management. Our country has suffered recently from a large-scale migration, especially to Buenos Aires, Spain, the United States. We believe that we can improve with the creation of jobs and giving legal security on a national and international level.

What is the Paraguayan government like now?
It is an obstacle for the country’s prosperity. There is a hegemonic structure of one party dating back to the 1960s, a legal structure dependent on political power and a fraudulent electoral structure.

It is an inefficient and absent state. Those who administer the government are negligent and inept in their positions. An example is that they have let 1.2 million yellow fever vaccines expire in the middle of a potential epidemic that is threatening the population today, and now they are desperately asking the rest of the world [for help]. This means that the state is not organized and is unpredictable.

There is an imperfect democracy, a fragile democracy that has not yet emerged from persecution or irrationality. We want to make a pluralist democracy, respectful of all sectors and ways of thinking.

In a country known for its large plantations, what plans do you have for the rural sector?
Land reform is fundamental and imminent. There are 300,000 landless campesinos and there are many unproductive plantations.

This is a great contradiction just as [writer Augusto] Roa Bastos has said: Paraguay is a place where there are many campesinos without land and a lot of land without campesinos.”

This is the first land reform program that does not deal only with giving out land, because many of it was already given out. In the last 20 years, 11 million hectares [27 million acres] were given out. But the mistake of these policies is to donate the land without advising the beneficiaries. That is not a reform, nor is it efficient or planned out.

Land reform is to accompany them, make sure they have loans, technical assistance, that they know how to farm, how to sell their harvests, that they have all of the basic services, among other things.

The great majority of the Asuncion population comes from the interior because there are no universities in our towns, there’s no work, no health centers or hospitals, and later they come to the capital or its surrounding areas.

What policy would you apply to improve the population’s quality of life?
Economic growth but with social equality. Paraguay has all of the conditions so that we can all live healthfully. We can live in a dignified way, but sadly, a small group lives off of ostentatious fortunes and the great majority lives as paupers. The pie is divided unequally and unjustly. When I speak of inequality I refer to the difference in the lives of those who have just have enough to buy food and those who frequently go to Buenos Aires, São Paulo and Miami to buy sumptuous items. It’s good that Paraguay grows economically but it’s not good that only a few take everything.

Where do you intend to get the resources to carry out your proposal for change?
The first and most important of our resources is hydroelectric power. Each year from the Itaipú [plant] we only receive US$260 million, because the energy we sell Brazil is very cheap, only priced to cost.

If we sell at the market price our energy, at the very least, would give us $3.5 billion a year, and with that, we can cover half of the national budget.
That $260 million that we receive is taken on the way by a small group that lives off the boom. The large resources of our country are not divided well. From the first day, Aug. 16, we have to initiate a big campaign to take the decision about the exploitation of energy. If we do so, we can create 120,000 jobs.


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