Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Sandal Revolution of Paraguay

Fernando Lugo wore sandals and a simple white shirt and trouser for the ceremony of his inaguration as President of Paraguay on 15 August, which I attended. Somebody called it as Revolucion Sandalia- Sandal Revolution !

Lugo said he would forego the presidential salary of 40,000 dollars per year. He would continue to live in his own modest house during his presidential tenure. His sister will be the official hostess in his household.

Lugo, popularly called as the Bishop of the Poor, had worked as priest in the poor parts of Paraguay and Ecuador. After initial hesitation, Vatican let him leave the church to pursue his political career in 2007. Many priests in Latin America had embraced Liberation Theology and had fought on the side of the poor against repressive regimes and sacrified their lives in some cases. Lugo is the first priest to get a chance as president to practise Liberation Theology.

Lugo has created history in Paraguay by singlehandedly defeating the Colorado party which had ruled the country for the last sixty years ! He entered politics only in 2006 and got himself supported by a coalition of leftist and liberal parties. Pitted against almost impossible barriers, he got elected with an overwhelming majority.

In his emotional inagural address, he outlined his Agenda for Change. He promised to change not only the politics of the country but also the culture of the society. Change is not going to be easy...but it is not impossible, he said. This was reflected in the song of the Sembrador group, which followed the oath-taking ceremony. Here is part of the lyric..

la lluvia y el viento
me llaman amigo
la noche y la luna
me quiren besar

Despiertate hermano
ya llega la aurora

(the rain and the wind
call me as friend
the night and the moon
want to kiss me

wake up my brother
the dawn has come)

Poverty alleviation, land reforms, education and health would be his priorities. He made part of his speech in Guarani, the native tongue of the indigenous people and paid tribute to them. Paraguay is the only Latin American country where the indigenous language is spoken by the settlers and the whole population.

While the world media is obsessed with labelling him and making comparisons with others, Lugo said he will go his own pragmatic way. He has no revolution to export nor agenda to change the world. He has a limited domestic agenda to change the lives of the poor and the excluded. This is obvious from the fact that he did not make any reference to foreign policy or regional affairs in his hour-long speech.

It is not only the politics of Latin America which is changing.. the Presidential attire too is undergoing a revolution. While Lugo is on the top of this change with his sandals and whiteshirt, suits and tie have been discarded by the presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador. Both were wearing colourful traditional shirts without tie. While Correa had put on a jacket over his shirt, Evo Morales had his trade-mark casual jacket on.

During my call on Lugo on 17 July, I gifted to him Mahatma Gandhi´s autobiography in spanish. And Gandhi too wore sandals....Gandhi went further by foregoing even the shirt...and achieving independance for India. Lugo´s assumption of power on 15 August coincides with the Independence Day of India on the same day.

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