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Paraguay moves a bit to the left

President-elect Lugo is seen as independent from U.S., not hostile.

April 22, 2008|Patrick J. McDonnell and Paul Richter | Times Staff Writers

Just as Lugo has refrained from attacking Washington, he has also been careful not to assail Venezuela's Chavez or lavish excess praise on him. Lugo -- who won 41% of the vote, compared with 31% for his chief opponent, Colorado Party candidate Blanca Ovelar -- was forced repeatedly to deny links to the Venezuelan leader and insisted he would not be beholden to any side in the ongoing chill in relations between Chavez and the United States.

Asked to define his politics, Lugo has said he would negotiate an "intermediate line," somewhere between the hard left of Chavez and Morales and the more moderate stance of Lula and Bachelet.

"We have to make our own road toward integration and not be an island between progressive governments," Lugo told the Spanish daily El Pais. "Today in Latin America there are no unified, common paradigms."

During the campaign, many of Lugo's foreign policy pronouncements focused on two giant neighbors -- Brazil and Argentina -- rather than on the U.S. The president-elect has vowed to get better deals from both nations on a pair of joint hydroelectric projects.

Lugo's election has raised more public concern in Brazil than in the United States, which has relatively little investment here. Lula has firmly declared that Brazil is unwilling to renegotiate the terms of a major hydroelectric treaty that Lugo says cheats Paraguay out of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

"The treaty will not change," Lula declared after congratulating Lugo on his victory.

Here in Paraguay, a nation of 6.6 million best known for decades of poverty, smuggling and right-wing rule, there is much speculation about what a Lugo administration will bring -- in foreign policy and most everything else.

"We don't know if Lugo will try to take the country closer to Hugo Chavez," said Hugo Estigarribia, a senator-elect from the Colorado Party, which will now be the opposition bloc.

But many Paraguayans were euphoric at the prospect of change of a party apparatus condemned as corrupt and incompetent. Thousands celebrated on the streets.

"I'm 59 years old. I was born with the Colorado Party in power," said Eladio Casanova, a waiter downtown. "But I didn't want to die with the Colorado Party still in power."

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patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

paul.richter@latimes.com

McDonnell reported from Asuncion and Richter from Washington.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Who's left, right and center in South America

Key leaders in South America and when they were elected:

Left and center-left governments:

Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez (elected 1998) is stridently anti-Washington.

Ecuador: President Rafael Correa (2006) is a Harvard-trained Chavez ally.

Brazil: George W. Bush calls President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2002) a friend.

Chile: President Michelle Bachelet (2006) is a lifelong socialist and firm U.S. friend.

Argentina: President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's (2007) is close to Venezuela's Chavez but also wants U.S ties.

Uruguay: President Tabare Vazquez (2004) hosted George Bush last year.

Bolivia: President Evo Morales (2005) says the U.S. plots to remove him from office.

Paraguay: President-elect Fernando Lugo (2008) says he is a moderate man of faith.

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Center-right governments:

Colombia: President Alvaro Uribe (2002) is major U.S. aid client on the continent.

Peru: Ex-leftist President Alan Garcia (2006) now embraces free trade with the United States.

Source: Times reporting.

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