Paraguay sees political turmoil over president's cancer

16th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Paraguay's political outlook has become murkier with the news that President Fernando Lugo is being treated for cancer, casting doubts over the promises for change from the country's first leftist head of state.

The 59-year-old former Roman Catholic bishop appears to have been weakened politically as well as physically by lymphatic cancer since the announcement August 6 of his illness.

Analysts say Lugo faces a daunting task as he battles cancer and tries to carry out his reform agenda in the landlocked nation of six million which is seen as having one of the highest levels of inequality in South America.

Lugo's election in 2008 raised hopes for change after 62 years of rule by the conservative Colorado party, including a long dictatorship from 1954 to 1989.

But his approval rating has slid from 90 percent just after the election to 50 percent today, according to polls.

"President Lugo is untouchable because of his health and at the same time very vulnerable, especially because his supporters are a minority in parliament," says Bernardino Cano Radil, professor of political science at the University of Asuncion.

In this context, the left will try to "keep President Lugo where he is, because a change of leadership would be a calamity" the analyst said.

Lugo has already canceled a trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week and postponed other visits overseas although he has maintained plans to visit Chile for its bicentennial ceremonies.

This week, he carried out routine business at the presidential palace after four days cloistered in his residence.

But his spokesman said he would not resign despite criticism from the political opposition.

"The president's illness makes it impossible for him to govern," said Liberal Party Senator Luis Alfredo Jaeggli.

Another opposition lawmaker, David Ocampos, said key governing meetings "cannot be suspended or curtailed," and added that "that's why we have a number two (vice president)."

Lugo had two chemotherapy sessions in Brazil in August, and his doctors have said he would require a total of six, amounting to four to six months of treatment.

Having lost his hair, Lugo has been seen infrequently in public in the past month, but his doctor Alfredo Boccia said the president is "doing well."

"For five or six days between (chemotherapy) sessions, the president must take precautions to avoid being in contact with too many people in enclosed spaces or with the crowd to avoid infection," the physician said.

Lugo has carried out his plan of implementing health care reform but has been slow to bring in promised land reforms in a nation where 80 percent of arable land is held by two percent of the population.

His agenda has become more difficult to pass after losing the support of the Liberal Party.

But he has weathered difficulties so far in office including a scandal last year in which he acknowledged fathering a child with a younger woman while contesting two other paternity suits.

© 2010 AFP

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