By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

ASUNCIÓN, April 22, 2008 ( – Fernando Lugo, a Catholic bishop suspended by the Vatican for entering politics, has been elected President of Paraguay, overturning the 60-year political monopoly held by the nation’s Colorado Party.

Lugo, who is known as a proponent of “liberation theology” and “twenty-first century socialism”, won the election with a strong plurality of votes: 41 percent, vs.  31 percent for Blanca Olevar of the Colorado party.  An assortment of third party candidates made up the rest of the votes.

“You have decided what has to be done in Paraguay. You have decided to be a free Paraguay. Thank you, thank you, all of you!” Lugo said to supporters following the election.

As a consecrated bishop, Lugo’s candidacy had been rejected by the Vatican, which suspended him “a divinis” following his entrance into politics.  Lugo acknowledges his conflict with his superiors in the Catholic Church and seems uncomfortable with it.  He says that he wants to return the episcopate in 2013 when his term runs out, but adds that that possibility “is in the hands of the Vatican.”

“I love my Church, I don’t want to abandon it,” the 56-year old prelate told the media following the elections.  “I continue to be a committed Catholic but today I am in a situation of disobedience.  I would like to find a solution through dialogue acknowledging the fact that I resolved to serve my country as president of the republic.  If this is irritating to the Holy Father, I ask his forgiveness.”

The president of the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference, Ignacio Gogorza, hinted that the Roman authorities might be willing to make an arrangement with Lugo, but said the matter was out of the Conference’s hands. “Only the Holy Father is authorized to find a way out (for Lugo) because a bishop, in accordance with canonical regulations, cannot be a layman. A bishop dies as a bishop.”

Although Lugo has associated himself with the “twenty-first century socialism” that has become popular in such countries as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, he has also claimed that he is neither left-wing nor right-wing, and has insisted that Paraguay will go its own way.  He has also made statements distancing himself from Chavez´ political approach.

Lugo says that his first priority is to ameliorate the poverty that reportedly affects 43 percent of Paraguay’s citizens, many of them of indigenous Guarani ancestry.  He has promised a yet-unspecified land reform, and claims that large landowners have nothing to fear from him as long as they operate “within the law.”

However, as reported previously, Lugo has a reputation for stirring up class conflict instead of seeking reconciliation, and reportedly vilifies larger landowners.  “I believe his style of leadership is conflict. He is not a person who holds people together,” says Hector Cristaldo, head of the Agricultural Coordination of Paraguay.