In mid-August, former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo will begin his administration in Paraguay. According to press reports, he is advised by his friends in the Uruguayan government. Could be. Uruguay is governed by a strange left-wing coalition that brings together (precariously) Democrats and enemies of democracy, vegetarian socialists, and violent communists, as may be the case with the group that carried Lugo to victory at the polls. Although he never was a priest, Tabaré Vázquez has the tranquil aura of a good parish priest that perfectly matches Mr. Lugos benevolent nature. And Vázquez may be able to explain to Lugo how he has managed to maintain order in a political family as crowded, contradictory and dysfunctional as the one he heads in Montevideo.
In any case, it would have been worse to seek advice from the Kirchners. The last thing you should ask a Peronist is how to govern wisely. The Argentines have spent almost 70 years trying to find out, without the slightest success. And it would also be advisable to fall into the nets of Brazil, a nation with which the Paraguayans are preparing to butt heads. Lugo wants to multiply the revenue produced by the hydroelectric plant at Itaipú, on the border between the two countries, and that bill will have to be paid by Brazil.
The task facing Lugo is therefore tremendous. He inherits a profoundly corrupt and poor country, governed for 60 years by a party with a totalitarian bent, during Stroessners long reign, where much of the national income has been brazenly pocketed by some unscrupulous businessmen and the political classes through a mercantilist economic model that is well known in Latin America: right-wing populism. Right-wing populism is a basically demagogic monster that is hard to excise because it rots the heart of society. It combines nationalism, protectionism, and patronage, as happened in Mexico during the PRI and still happens in Argentina, where Peronism, more than a political party, is a chronic addiction to a kind of moral-dulling narcotic.
Can Mr. Lugo improve the situation in Paraguay? It depends. He might also worsen it. The former bishop has frequently stated that he favors Liberation Theology. That is very dangerous. That sociophilosophical gibberishborn of a ménage à trois between Marx, Che, and a biased interpretation of the New Testament, first circulated in the 1970s by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrezis to blame for the fact that a sector of the Church stained its hands with blood and irresponsibly sent hundreds of people to their death. It is no good for governing, reducing poverty or creating a more just nation. Trying to improve the problems of society with that vision of reality is like trying to cure a cancer patient by roasting him on a slow-turning spit.
Im almost sure that, when Mr. Lugo was a priest and he was told that Paraguays main problem was the unjust distribution of wealth, he believed it. (Nobody explained that it was a consequence of the problem, not the cause.) And probably he came to the conclusion that the function of politicians and governments must be the equitable distribution of wealth. Why not take away from the rich much of their property and distribute it among those who own nothing? After all, for centuries that has been the logic of a sector of the Church (the most ignorant sector) and continues to be the most widespread explanation for the misery that afflicts the continent.
How can Paraguay transform itself into a prosperous democracy? Unquestionably, by imitating all the countries that have abandoned underdevelopment: by generating a thick entrepreneurial fabric capable of creating ever-more-complex jobs that produce goods and services with greater value added. That requires education, respect for the law, adequate institutions, macroeconomic balance, political tranquility, honesty, openings, international integration, meritocracy, good public policy, market, competition, and the rest of the features and symptoms that distinguish the behavior of a successful countryIreland, for instancefrom that of a madhouse ruled by dint of shouts, like poor Venezuela.
Will Mr. Lugo take the road of Ireland or the road of Venezuela? If he is guided by the rancorous nonsense of Liberation Theology, his country will undoubtedly follow the Venezuelan road and plunge into a deep political and economic crisis. If he chooses to look to Ireland (or Chile, close to home), hell be able to serve his neediest compatriots, which is what he apparently desires. I havent the slightest notion of what hell do, but, with the passing of years, Ive learned that optimism is usually followed by frustration. Lamentably.