Paraguay has a new tendota
Close to midnight Sunday the candidate of the ruling Colorado party, Mr. Nicanor Duarte Frutos was declared winner of the Paraguayan presidential election by the Electoral Tribunal with almost 38% of the vote.
Runner up was Liberal candidate and former vicepresident Julio César Franco with 23,36%, followed closely by independent candidate and banker Pedro Fadul with 22,4% and finally with 12,94% Guillermo Sánchez a dissident faction of the Colorado party that has ruled landlocked Paraguay for the last 56 years
Mr. Duarte Frutos is a Guarani-speaking son of peasant farmers who became a radio soccer announcer in a provincial town and gradually took control of the party opening the way for the presidency. The future president exploited his peasant lineage and fluency in Guarani - the indigenous language - to capture the vote of the country's poor.
Mr. Duarte Frutos promised to become the new "tendota," or "supreme authority" in Guarani, and the first representative from that background to hold the country's highest public post. During his campaign, Mr. Duarte Frutos has not refrained from noting that he comes from a peasant family in which he was the only one who had access to a university education and that his arrival in power will serve as a means to help the country's poor.
The newly elected president, who is married and has five children, exudes pride when telling his supporters that he joined the Colorado Party at 14 years of age, at the encouragement of his father, shortly before starting to work as a sports commentator for a radio station in his hometown in order to pay for Law school. Upon finishing his schooling in Villarrica, a city located near Coronel Oviedo, he moved to Asuncion.
In the capital, he began working as a journalist for the daily Ultima Hora and took post-graduate courses in political science in the United States.
Mr. Duarte Frutos held the post of Deputy Education and Religion minister under the government of General Andres Rodriguez (1989-1993) and Education Minister under Juan Carlos Wasmosy (1993-1998) and current President Luis Gonzalez Macchi, whose administration he left in January 2001.
On resigning he became an outspoken critic of caretaker president Gonzalez Macchi, who was already under fire from his own party and involved in a corruption trial, and began working toward taking the reigns of the all powerful party, which he obtained in May of that same year.
However running Paraguay will be a far greater challenge and Mr. Duarte Frutos has a cyclopean task before him. Almost half the population is below the poverty line, (2,5 in 5,8 million Paraguayans), the country faces internal and external default and needs urgently to reschedule its 2,3 billion foreign debt. Even by South American standards Paraguay is considered an extreme case of rampant corruption, tax evasion and elusion, a smugglers paradise and haven of one of the most venal political leaderships.
Nevertheless "contortionist" Mr. Duarte Frutos seems to have escaped immune from his party's negative reputation and his promise of "tendota", a strong hand in an organization with a vertical past seems to have played the right tune.
Besides president the Paraguayan electorate voted for a new Congress (80 Deputies and 45 Senators), 17 governors and over a hundred regional Councillors.