|Paternity Makes Punch Line of Paraguay President
By Alexei Barrionuevo
New York Times
May 9, 2009
ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — The baby jokes just keep coming.
Fernando Lugo, the former priest who is now the country's president, shocked the nation last month by admitting to fathering one child — and possibly more — before the Vatican had returned him to layman status.
Now the Internet here is buzzing with an irreverent video showing him in a baby carriage, magically impregnating each woman he passes on the street. A popular television show in neighboring Argentina has dedicated a tango to him and recommended that he use contraception. A local cumbia song is even mocking his campaign slogan.
"The playboy has heart, but he doesn't use a condom," goes the refrain, playing on the slogan that helped get him elected, "Lugo has heart."
Even his closest advisers say they were stunned and dismayed by the revelations — and cannot rule out the possibility of more secret babies turning up.
"He isn't sure, so we can't be sure of exactly what could be coming," said Miguel López Perito, his chief of staff and a close friend, speaking about the current paternity claims and any others.
"He didn't open up about this issue to me," he said. "I respected that, as he is not a person who talks about his personal life. Although I knew this could explode at any moment, I never knew specifically what was out there."
When he assumed the presidency of Paraguay last August, Mr. Lugo took on a heavy task. After 61 years of one-party rule, the country was consistently rated one of the world's most corrupt. Mr. Lugo, a bearded former Roman Catholic bishop, had no political experience, yet he stormed into office on the faith of the nation's poor.
He had run a campaign focused on ethics, morality and transparency — attributes he associated with the church — so Mr. Lugo's admission that he was not quite the innocent servant of Scripture he seemed has devastated and disillusioned many here, some of whom are calling for his resignation.
"I feel betrayed," Gladys Bernal, a 50-year-old nurse who broke from the long-entrenched Colorado Party to vote for Mr. Lugo, said at an outdoor meeting recently organized by women who made speeches and waved signs like "Who will defend us from Lugo now?"
Since news broke last month about a 2-year-old that the president has recognized as his, two other women have come forward with similar assertions. One woman is awaiting DNA test results to confirm paternity and says that Mr. Lugo, now 57, was still a bishop when they became involved, when she was 18.
The mother of the boy he did accept as his, Viviana Carrillo, originally said in a court filing that she was only 16 when they first had sex, but appeared to change her story recently to avoid statutory rape charges against Mr. Lugo.
He is not the first priest to father a child, something that is surprisingly common in this deeply Catholic country of 6.8 million people. In Paraguay's traditional, macho culture, men are actually revered for fathering children with multiple women.
But Mr. Lugo was seen as a departure from the politics of patronage that characterized the Colorado Party, even after its longtime leader, the dictator Alfredo Stroessner, was ousted in 1989. Now the disenchanted voters who elected Mr. Lugo worry that the scandal will scuttle their chance for change.
"For the foreigners, this will be just a story about a bishop having children," said Gustavo Arzamendia, 35, a hotel clerk here. "But for the Paraguayans, it is much more than that. He was our last hope, the person people really believed could make a real break from the past."
The president has not acknowledged having more than one child, though he has hinted that it is possible. After the second and third women came forward last month, he apologized for the scandal and asked for forgiveness, but he did not refute the women's assertions.
His lawyer, Marcos Fariña, said Mr. Lugo would have no problem recognizing paternity if the claims were proved in court.
Mr. Lugo resigned from the diocese in San Pedro in 2005 and requested laicization in order to run for office. Ms. Carrillo, the mother of the child he acknowledges, now says their sexual relationship began only three years ago when she was 23 — not 16 as her original paternity suit asserted.
Mr. Lugo continued to serve as a priest, offering Mass and administering the Sacrament, until at least December 2006, and Pope Benedict XVI did not grant Mr. Lugo status as a lay person until last July, after the baby was born.
The unceasing jokes aside, bomb threats at government buildings and anti-Lugo public gatherings in recent days have led Mr. Lugo's supporters to suggest that there is a conspiracy afoot to destabilize him.
The Colorado Party dismissed that claim. "We don't need any conspiracy," said Liliana Samaniego, the party's president. "President Lugo has conspired against himself. He presented himself as the candidate of ethics, of morality, of transparency, and in the end that image was a big lie."
The administration has had other early problems, including the replacement of six government ministers in the past three weeks. Mr. López Perito, the president's chief of staff, also acknowledged that despite Mr. Lugo's quest to do away with entrenched patronage, he has so far been able to oust only about 1,200 of 230,000 state employees.
A promise of agrarian reform is being impeded by problems figuring out who owns what land; the official registry says people have title to one-fourth more land than there is national territory.
Then there are the accounts of Mr. Lugo's supposed lovers to contend with.
The latest to come forward was Damiana Hortensia Morán, 39, a former Lugo campaign worker who said she began a love affair with him in 2006. He insisted on keeping the affair secret, she said, never staying all night with her, but she got pregnant despite her use of an IUD, which she called a miracle.
"I love him unconditionally," said Ms. Morán, whose son is now 17 months old. "And I want my son to know this man, whom I admire so much."
For Benigna Leguizamón, any feelings of admiration are now stained by anger. She asserts that Mr. Lugo seduced her over three months in 2001, at the diocese in San Pedro. Then 18, she already had a 6-month-old daughter.
Now 25, she says that they have a son, Lucas Fernando — named after Mr. Lugo — who is 6. Mr. Lugo continued to see her until he was 2, she said, but did not keep his promises to support her financially.
Ms. Leguizamón has filed suit and is seeking DNA confirmation that Mr. Lugo is the father. Mr. Fariña, the lawyer, declined to say whether claims of the affair were true. He said Saturday that DNA tests might be sent out of the country and take as much as a month.
"What is important to me is that he takes care of his child," Ms. Leguizamón said. "No one is paying me, and I am not interested in the least in whether his presidency fails or not."
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