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Paraguay's new president pledges to end misery, corruption

By Alan Clendenning
Associated Press / August 16, 2008
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ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay - Leftist former bishop Fernando Lugo became Paraguay's president yesterday, ending six decades of one-party rule in a key step in the poor South American nation's democratic transformation.

Tens of thousands of Paraguayans cheered as Lugo was sworn in, wearing sandals and his trademark white mandarin-collared shirt to set himself apart from the suit-wearing politicians.

Speaking in both Spanish and the Guarani indigenous language, Lugo pledged to end the misery and corruption that has defined Paraguay under the Colorado Party, which supported the brutal 1954-1989 dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner and has ruled ever since.

"Today Paraguay breaks with its reputation for corruption, breaks with the few feudal lords of the past," said Lugo, who neatly trimmed his beard for the ceremony.

He also called on Paraguay's political establishment to start working for the people instead of themselves, saying he would donate his monthly salary of $6,000 to the poor "because I don't need it to live modestly."

His first challenge will be to balance competing and potentially explosive interests. Elements of both the left and right have challenged his authority, raising the specter of political chaos and civil unrest.

Landless peasants who have been seizing private property are threatening a much larger wave of invasions on land owned by rich soy farmers as early as this weekend.

His administration also suspects the outgoing government tried to undermine his presidency by allowing critical supplies of fuel and medicine to disappear.

The Colorados still control most government institutions and will likely frustrate efforts at land reform in the small, landlocked country, where corruption is entrenched and an estimated 1 percent of the people control 77 percent of the land.

Lugo has promised to respect private property in his bid to grant land to the poor, but said his administration "will work boldly to obtain better living conditions for the peasants, whether they have land or not."

His party, the Patriotic Alliance for Change, has allied with conservative lawmakers for a tenuous majority in Congress, where most lawmakers remain beholden to the wealthy elite. Transforming Paraguay, Lugo said, "won't be an easy task."

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