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Commentary

Paraguay: The Bishop and The President, Face to Face


     
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(FIRMAS PRESS) Former bishop Fernando Lugo is now President of Paraguay. Swell. He comes to power amid widespread national hope. He is backed by 93 percent of the population. His inauguration proceeded elegantly. There was only one minor contretemps: the Secretary (Minister) for Women’s Affairs, Gloria Rubin, protested with just indignation against the invitation sent to Daniel Ortega, and the Nicaraguan decided not to show up in Asunción. The basis for Mrs. Rubin’s rejection was not political but moral: she found it unacceptable for a president accused of raping his stepdaughter, Zoilamérica Narváez, since childhood to participate in the inaugural ceremony for a government that has decided to clean up the dirty life of Paraguay. It was an intolerable contradiction. She could have criticized the presence of Hugo Chávez, who used to batter his latest wife, Marisabel Rodríguez, with Bolivarian fury, but those attacks no doubt were less barbarous than the horrendous crime imputed to the Sandinista leader.

In Spain there’s an old, popular saying that surely had a religious origin: “It is not the same to preach as to give out wheat.” In general, priests are good at preaching. It is an old tradition of pagan Rome that the Church incorporated into its customs and duties. All this comes to mind in connection with Mr. Lugo’s profession. Until recently, his job consisted of exposing evil, denouncing vices and demanding justice. At that time, Bishop Lugo preached. Now, President Lugo has to give out wheat. In other words, he has to correct the serious problems that beset Paraguayan society. He has already explained that he has taken the side of the poor, as befits someone who calls himself a supporter of Liberation Theology, something that doesn’t seem wrong since we’re talking about Paraguay. Except for Bolivia, no other country in all of South America is as unproductive.

The problem is that it is a lot easier to preach than to give out wheat, and President Lugo runs the risk of having Bishop Lugo spoil his performance in government. Since time immemorial, numerous bishops have been tempted to blame the rich for the poverty of those who have little or nothing. With one eye, they see the luxurious and comfortable lifestyles of one sector of society, while with the other they watch the miserable, ignorant and ill-fed people who barely make a living, and come to the wrong conclusion that the misery suffered by some is a consequence of the opulence attained by others. Once this erroneous inference has been established, they fall into the temptation of distributing the wealth “equitably.” At the end, they accomplish what they had not intended to achieve: they destroy the wealth and impoverish everyone.      

For the past 2,000 years, the Church has practiced caregiving, and President Lugo might believe that his task as president is to turn the government into a major charitable organization. This would bring about two contradictory consequences: the applause of a majority and the ruination of the whole. It is very simple; what priests learn and the experience they gain in the practice of their profession is not useful when it comes to governing adequately. (We could say the same about the army officers or dentists who come to power.) Whether Mr. Lugo—who most likely is an honest person, filled with benevolent intentions—becomes a good or bad president, it will not be thanks to the knowledge he acquired in the seminary but to his common sense, the quality of his advisers, his ability to bring opposing wills together, and his ability to formulate sensible projects, gather the resources needed to carry those projects through and bring them to fruition in the proper time and form, within the narrow margins set by the law. That’s what good governance is all about. The idea is to create formulas to stimulate national production and productivity and to assign, reasonably and fairly, the scant resources available to the State to alleviate the infinite problems that afflict society. It is a humbling task, full of frustrations and—no matter what one does—it inevitably will generate a large number of detractors and lead to melancholy.

The only advantage of Lugo’s former profession as a priest is that it taught him to forgive his enemies, and that, in politics, is never a handicap. There’s usually a lot of them. [© FIRMAS PRESS] 


Carlos Alberto Montaner is a Member of the Board of Advisors for the Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute and President of Firmas Press.






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