Cablegate: President-Elect Fernando Lugo: A Profile
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 ASUNCION 000358
WHA/FO; WHA/BSC MDRUCKER, BFRIEDMAN, KBEAMER; NSC DFISK; DS/DSS/ITA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/19/2028
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL SNAR PA XM
SUBJECT: PRESIDENT-ELECT FERNANDO LUGO: A PROFILE
REF: A. 06 ASUNCION 1280
B. 06 ASUNCION 348
C. ASUNCION 263
Classified By: DCM Michael J. Fitzpatrick; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). -------
1. (S) President-elect Fernando Lugo will need to rely on his diverse background to govern Paraguay and hold together the varied interests in his political coalition. Lugo comes from a family of long-time Colorado dissidents, particularly vocal during the Stroessner years. After distinguished national military service, Lugo began his own career as a teacher in 1969 but soon found his calling in the Catholic Church. Ordained a bishop in 1994, Lugo was assigned to the Archdiocese of San Pedro for 11 years before stepping down. Lugo launched the organization Citizen Resistance in March 2006 and made his political start by speaking at a massive political rally the same month, leading many to believe that he would be the only presidential candidate who could defeat the Colorados in the April 2008 election. While Lugo's quiet, affable style should help him build consensus in the next government, other aspects of his personality, such as his avoidance of confrontation, could hinder his ability to govern. Sensitive reporting suggests that some members of Lugo's inner circle maintain ties to representatives of Venezuelan President Chavez and that Lugo himself has loose personal ties to members of Paraguay's Free Fatherland Party (PPL), the all-but-defunct leftist micro-party with an armed wing. Lugo leveraged his status with the Catholic Church and reputation for honesty to win the presidency; he will need more than just a little help from "upstairs" to govern as president. END SUMMARY.
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2. (C) President-elect Fernando Armindo Lugo Mendez will need his diverse background to govern Paraguay and hold together the varied interests represented in his political coalition. Lugo's political organization is the Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC), comprised of 12 political parties and nine political movements, centered principally on the Radical Authentic Liberal Party (PLRA), Paraguay's largest and oldest opposition political party. Lugo is a registered member of Paraguay's (largely irrelevant) Christian Democratic Party. His vice president-elect, Luis Federico Franco Gomez, is a long-time PLRA member. Lugo has thrived in the social and religious arenas by reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised, largely with populist (though not necessarily incendiary) principles.
3. (C) Lugo comes from a family of long-time Colorado dissidents, particularly vocal during the Stroessner years. He was born on May 30, 1951, in San Pedro del Parana (Itapua Department) to Guillermo Lugo and Maximina Mendez Fleitas. His uncle, Epifanio Mendez Fleitas, was a renowned dissident Colorado leader and rival to dictator Alfredo Stroessner who fled in exile to Uruguay in 1956. Mendez Fleitas founded the Popular Colorado Movement (MOPOCO) in 1959, a dissident Colorado revolutionary group that advocated Stroessner's overthrow. Lugo told DCM his father Guillermo was detained twenty times during Stroessner's 35-year reign; his brothers were tortured and exiled. (His sister Mercedes puts their father's lifetime total arrests at 38.) Their brother Pompeyo remains a dissident Colorado (ref A), another brother lives in France; their final brother died of natural causes. Despite his family's strong political traditions, Fernando Lugo himself remained politically disengaged until he resigned from the priesthood in 2006 to pursue politics full time.
--------------------- CAREER IN THE CHURCH ---------------------
4. (U) As a young man, Fernando Lugo finished first in his class during his obligatory military service. Yet Lugo was denied a m
ilitary commission because of his family's opposition to Stroessner. Lugo then began his career as a teacher in 1969 but soon found his calling in the Catholic Church. He earned his undergraduate degree in religious science from the Catholic University of Asuncion in 1977, the same year the Catholic Church ordained him as a priest. Lugo served as a missionary in Ecuador from 1977 until 1982, where he learned the principles of Liberation Theology under Leonidas Proanho, the "Bishop of the Poor." He returned to Paraguay in 1982 and served one year as an apprentice in the Order of the Divine Word. He studied spirituality and sociology in Italy from 1983 to 1987, earning a bachelor's degree in sociology from Gregoriana University in Rome. (There are reports the Church sent him abroad repeatedly -- Italy, Germany, Ecuador, Peru -- to protect him from Stroessner's regime.) Lugo served from 1987 to 1992 as a professor at the Superior Institute of Theology in Asuncion, as head of the Order of the Divine Word, and as vice president of the Religious Confederation of Paraguay.
5. (C) The Church ordained Lugo as a bishop in 1994 and assigned him to the Archdiocese of San Pedro, one of the poorest areas in this poor country -- and one intentionally marginalized by the Colorados because of a strong Liberal Party presence, which occasionally manifested itself in the form of rural armed groups over the decades. During his 11-year tenure as bishop, Lugo fought for campesino rights and organized the region's peasant movement. He resigned as bishop in January 2005. Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation in January 2006 and he thus acquired the title of Bishop Emeritus of San Pedro. Lugo submitted his petition to resign from the clergy in December 2006 to run for president; the Vatican denied his request in January 2007. (NOTE: Press reports in 2005 indicated that the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference (CEP) announced that it had no objections to Lugo's activities as bishop and believed his actions were intended to address social injustices and poverty. However, other 2005 press reports indicated that the CEP forced Lugo to resign as bishop because of his association with inciting land invasions that resulted in violence as well as a rumor that Lugo fathered a child. The Church must still decide whether to accept Lugo's rsignation, provide a "temporary dispensation," or excommunicate him after he assumes the presidency on August 15. END NOTE.)
------------- LEFTIST TIES? -------------
6. (S/NF) Sensitive reporting indicates that some members of Lugo's inner circle have ties to representatives of Venezuelan President Chavez. These Lugo insiders claim that he supports Chavez' plans for Latin America; Lugo has stated publicly and privately (to Embassy officials) that he will not align himself with Chavez. Lugo volunteered to OAS chief of electoral mission (and former Colombia Foreign Minister) Maria Emma Mejia early April 21 that while Chavez was the first president to congratulate him April 20, he does not know Chavez and was delighted that the U.S. Ambassador was in fact the first caller to congratulate him and to offer support for his government. One party in Lugo's coalition, the P-MAS (Paraguayan Movement towards Socialism), receives Venezuelan financial support. When pressed publicly, Lugo has publicly identified himself as closest in ideology and management style to Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez.
7. (S/NF) Sensitive reporting also suggests Lugo himself has loose ties to members of the Free Fatherland Party (PPL) -- the tiny Paraguayan Marxist-Leninist party which developed an armed wing in the early part of the decade, and which has roots in San Pedro and Concepcion Departments. (NOTE: The PPL today is all but disbanded. END NOTE.) Several PPL leaders are reportedly ex-seminarians, although Lugo has publicly denied having been their instructor (which is not to say that they did not know each other in Paraguay's small circle of clergy).
During the just-concluded presidential campaign, it was publicly alleged that Lugo assisted PPL members in planning and executing the 2004 kidnapping of former president Raul Cubas Grau's daughter, Cecilia Cubas, and to have helped PPL members escape Paraguayan justice. Lugo has publicly denied the same. Lugo is not known to have links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); Lugo told Maria Emma Mejia April 21 that he is inclined to publicly declare (post-inauguration) the FARC "a terrorist organization." He stressed to Mejia he had no problem with the use of the word terrorist to describe them since "the FARC killed my friend." (NOTE: No Further Information available.) Lugo signed a petition in 2000 against USG funding for Plan Colombia. The petition, drafted by members of the PPL (which was then a legal party), was sent to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and foreign embassies. Lugo, along with President Chavez and many others, also signed a 2006 manifesto opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Latin America.
8. (S) NOTE: Lugo privately told DCM April 17 (i.e., several days before his election), that he was convinced that corrupt elements of the police (if not certain Colorado politicians) had protected the PPL kidnappers, whom he said were responsible for the kidnapping and ultimate killing of Cecilia Cubas. He said a police officer came to him with information as to where Cubas was then being held. (Lugo was still Bishop of San Pedro at this time.) He said they jointly went to see the Interior Minister (Nelson Mora) the night of December 6-7, 2004, provided him the address -- and even told him that a police officer (and possible suspect) lived next door to the house where Cubas was being held. Lugo said the Minister assured them he was already aware, and that "all was being taken care of." The police officer accompanying Lugo, however, was suddenly reassigned the next day. Lugo recalled that the Minister publicly declared "We know where you are" and gave the PPL "24 hours" to surrender -- but no action was taken. (COMMENT: This statement is confirmed by contemporary press reports. END COMMENT.)
Cuba's body was only recovered in February 2006, from the same house Lugo says they had identified to the Interior Minister in December. Lugo told DCM he had recently had it confirmed to him that the PPL kidnappers had even used the car owned by their policeman neighbor. Lugo told DCM that though he did not have a complete understanding as to the extent of official (or semi-official) protection that had gone on, he was toying with the idea of a national inquiry into the case, should he become president, saying, "the people have a right to know." The Interior Minister and several dozen police officials were all sacked following the discovery of Cuba's body. END NOTE.
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9. (C) Lugo launched the organization Citizen Resistance in March 2006 and burst onto the national political scene as a last-minute speaker at a massive political rally on March 29, 2006. Lugo spoke to about 35,000 people and against the decision by five members of the Supreme Court to affirm Duarte (contrary to the Constitution) as president of both the government and Colorado Party. Many began to suggest that he should run and could defeat the Colorados in the 2008 presidential election. Lugo organized other marches against the Colorados and supported launching the opposition political movement Tekojoja in June 2006. (He once pointedly corrected an embassy officer, however, who suggested he was the leader of Tekojoja.) He subsequently formally registered as a member of the (micro) Christian Democratic Party. Lugo won the support of the PLRA in June 2007 when he agreed to accept a member of the PLRA as his running mate. The political opposition formed the APC, Lugo's current alliance, in September 2007 from the remnants of the National Assembly (Concertacion Nacional), which splintered when the National Union of Ethical Citizens Party (UNACE) and Beloved Fatherland Party (PQ) fielded their own presidential tickets.
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10. (C) While Lugo's quiet, affable style should help him build consensus in the next government, other aspects of his personality, such as his avoidance of confrontation, could hinder his ability to govern. Lugo generally connects well with people (although he is reportedly uncomfortable with women) and has thus far been successful in attracting a diverse support base. He is said to be an expert in "human nature" and is a quick and accurate judge of character. Personally a quiet, unpretentious and serene individual, Lugo cares little for physical possessions. He typically wears sandals, because that is who he is. (He says he has owned two suits in his life; one for high school graduation and another for his ordination. He bought his third for the May 16 Ibero-American Summit in Lima, Peru.) However, his strong populist leanings -- including a reputation for detesting flaunting of wealth by the rich -- could lead to rifts with the political establishment. Likewise, even Lugo's closest advisors worry that he will walk away from conflict within his own alliance. His reportedly already-strained relationship with Vice President-elect Federico Franco indicates that he may not be able to work effectively with influential members of his own alliance (let alone with the Colorados). But he also has demonstrated an iron will, and is not easily moved from strongly held positions.
11. (SBU) Given his career as a member of the Catholic clergy, Lugo is unmarried (although he is rumored to have fathered several illegitimate children). Lugo told DCM April 17 that he admires Nelson Mandela, and particularly, how Mandela defied predictions of impending social strife to bring his country together and move it forward together
. (NOTE: Lugo was reading a Mandela biography at the time, which was on his coffee table during the meeting). Lugo speaks Spanish, Guarani, Portuguese, Italian, and at least some German. He has also studied English.
------- COMMENT -------
12. (C) Lugo leveraged his status with the Catholic Church and reputation for honesty to win the presidency, but he will need more than just a little help from "upstairs" to govern as president. It is unclear whether Lugo has the skills needed to run Paraguay (he reportedly caused an NGO he managed for one year to fail), but his historic win with over 40 percent of the vote gives him strong momentum that will help him govern in the short term (ref C). In terms of the direction Lugo will take, many questions remain. He is a leftist at heart, but given the Liberal Party's influence in his coalition and Congress' strong role in the Paraguayan government, he will likely have to steer a center-left course. Lugo's ties to Venezuela and others bear monitoring, but so far, his signals to the United States Embassy have been clear -- he is grateful for our offers of assistance and wants a close relationship. If you can't believe a priest, who can you believe? END COMMENT.
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