June 20, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Paraguayan President-elect Fernando Lugo was all smiles as he and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez embraced, talked of a revolution for the poor and pledged to build a united Latin America.
But as the former Roman Catholic priest ended a three-nation tour Thursday that also included visits to Venezuela's leftist allies in Bolivia and Ecuador, political analysts predicted he will take a less radical approach to governing.
"He sees himself on the side of the progressive forces that want to change the relationship between Latin American countries and the United States," said Fred Rossen, an analyst at the New York-based North American Congress on Latin America.
But he still faces a formidable conservative opposition at home and is considered much more moderate in his approach to the United States.
Lugo's election in April pushed Paraguay toward the left and ended the 61-year reign of the conservative Colorado Party. But the party still holds a congressional majority and control of the judiciary.
"Even if he wanted to, he's not in a position to make very radical changes," said Michael Shifter, an analyst at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. "He must contend with a very entrenched Colorado Party, so I think his room for maneuvering is extremely limited."
While meeting with Chavez, Lugo dedicated his presidency to working for the poor and echoed the Venezuelan president's calls for realizing the dream of 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar - a unified South America.
Lugo's election is the latest in a string of victories by leftist candidates in Latin America. Today, only a handful of countries in the region are governed by right-leaning leaders. But he prefers not to be compared to Chavez and his allies, casting himself as an independent politician who is neither on the left nor the right.
"Many ask me if I'm going to be like Evo, Correa or Chavez," Lugo said in Ecuador this week - referring to presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, both strong critics of Washington.
"But I say that ... Paraguay is going to build its own democratic process," he added. "We won't allow any nation, small or large, to dictate what we have to do with our own country."
The Patriotic Alliance for Change, the coalition of parties that brought Lugo to power, includes socialists, centrists and even conservatives - all of whom will be fighting for a voice in his government.
"I don't see the same scenario in Paraguay that you've seen in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, where there's been a collapse of the ruling political class and complete transformation of new people getting into power," Shifter said.
Still, Chavez sees in Lugo another like-minded Latin American leader. On Thursday he promised to send more oil to Paraguay.
While Chavez lambasted U.S. "imperialism" during a news conference, Lugo's words were less strident. He said his government won't permit "foreign military bases" on its soil - a reference to U.S. outposts in the region.
Earlier, Lugo warned that Paraguay won't accept U.S. meddling in Latin American affairs. But he also said his government would work to maintain warm relations with Washington after he takes office Aug. 15.
"We've said that we want to have relations with everyone, whenever they are respectful, balanced and fair relations, and that the time of U.S. imperialism in Latin America has ended," Lugo told the Caracas-based Telesur TV network.
Associated Press writers Jeanneth Valdivieso in Quito, Ecuador, and Pedro Servin in Asuncion, Paraguay, contributed to this report.