Presidential paternity suit rocks Paraguay

Sat, Apr 11, 2009, 01:00

PARAGUAY HAS been rocked by claims that the former Catholic bishop elected president last year is the father of a baby boy, the result of a years-long relationship with a 26-year-old woman.

President Fernando Lugo has yet to comment on the accusation, which his officials say is the latest in a long series of smears against the man who broke six decades of corrupt one-party rule when he led a broad alliance of opposition parties to victory in last April’s elections.

Lawyers for the woman, Viviana Rosali Carrillo Canete, filed a paternity suit on Wednesday in the southern city of Encarnación. But Ms Canete quickly distanced herself from the suit, saying she had not authorised it. She refused to comment further, saying she wanted to protect her child, who will be two next month.

One of her lawyers said Ms Canete signed the papers herself 15 days ago after negotiations with President Lugo over how to care for the boy broke down.

Claudio Konstinchok told local media that he believed Ms Canete had decided to back down from her claim out of fear or because of threats. He said the suit would be withdrawn once the courts reopened next week after the Easter break.

Since the suit was filed, local media have quoted the supposed aunt of the woman at the centre of the claim. She said she knew of the relationship between her niece and the then bishop as long as five years ago.

Edith Lombardo de Vega was quoted in the Última Hora newspaper as saying the little boy looked like Mr Lugo, “just a little bit prettier”, and that the president named him after his own father. Several newspapers printed excerpts of what it said were text messages between the president and Ms Canete.

Mr Lugo (57), retired as the bishop of the poor rural region of San Pedro in 2004 and then quit the church in 2006 in order to enter politics. He quickly became a unifying candidate for the divided opposition against the ruling Colorado party, which in six decades of rule had become synonymous with rampant corruption, turning Paraguay into a paradise for smugglers and drug traffickers.

At a press conference on Thursday, Mr Lugo’s spokesman Augusto Dos Santos said the president’s team was evaluating the accusations against the president. While not denying outright the claim that he fathered a child, he said the case was just the latest in a series of accusations against the president.

“It is evident that this case is part of a harassing political campaign against the president of the republic who is leading a process of historic change,” said Mr Dos Santos. He said the president would comply fully with any legal proceeding and not use his position as president to impede any judicial process.

He also questioned the timing of the suit’s filing, saying it was done just before the courts closed for the Easter holiday, meaning the claim could not be withdrawn until next week despite the supposed claimant’s demand that the lawyers do so.

One senior Lugo adviser contacted by The Irish Times said the president’s opponents were taking advantage of a recent split in the cabinet that saw a leading minister resign to refloat old accusations against the president.

During last year’s election, Mr Lugo was the victim of a vicious smear campaign mounted by the ruling Colorado party, past masters of the dark arts of Paraguayan politics, which included unproven claims that he had fathered various children.

He was also accused of involvement with a small terrorist group held responsible for the kidnap and murder of the daughter of a former president and of being a closet Marxist on the payroll of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez.

In the days before the election, unsigned posters appeared across the capital, Asunción, claiming he was the Beast of the Book of Revelations.

Having promised to end the corruption of the Colorado era and to redistribute land to peasants, President Lugo has powerful enemies among landowners, Colorado-linked officials in the bureaucracy, the police and courts and in the country’s powerful criminal networks.