Next Sunday there will be a new president in Mexico, and last Saturday Paraguay changed presidents. The two events, however, are not analogous. Mexico is advancing slowly toward a consolidated democracy. In Paraguay, the surprise 2008 election of the ex-bishop Fernando Lugo, well-intentioned but politically inexpert, sowed panic among the political class - so much so that they have found it necessary to oust him, in a manner as strictly legal as it is obviously illegitimate.
In the Mexican election we see three major options. A victory seems very unlikely for the Catholic-right party PAN, represented by Josefina Vázquez Mota, since it would give this party a third six-year mandate, when its second presidency, that of Felipe Calderón, is mired in a bloody war of choice on the drug trade. Also facing an uphill fight is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the leftist PRD, with his unsteady rhetoric about a "republic of love," and the memory of the comic civil-disobedience insurrection, in which he spent months pouting over his defeat by Calderón in 2006. Finally (though his cultural shortcomings are obvious) the big favorite is Enrique Peña Nieto, of the PRI, who has no option but to keep to the middle of the road, the party having no program; while he accepts, or does not disown, a political slogan of a cynicism conceivable only in a land of rooted Hispano-Catholic tradition: "We may be corrupt, but we know how to govern."
The PRI, which for 70 years was what the Mexican sociologist Roger Barras called "a centralized electoral office for the pork barrel," seems to have transformed itself into a real party, which rests on a coalition of state governors. Like the post-USSR Communist Party in Russia (but unburdened with the baggage of Marxism-Leninism), the PRI forms part of the warp and weft of 20th-century Mexico, harking back to the 1910-24 Revolution.
In Paraguay the disconcerting element was the electoral victory of a total outsider: the ex-prelate. The country had known the age-long dictatorship of General Stroessner, whose fall in 1989 was followed by a democracy of very low intensity, the general's Colorado Party chronically lingering in power. In terms of numbers, Lugo should never have attained the presidency. His electoral slate contained everything but express Lugo adherents, while it did contain a lot of members of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party - one of the varied forms assumed by the landowning right in Latin America, its main electoral stock in trade being its opposition to the Colorado Party. And though Lugo has not done much, in a leftist sense, his declared intentions were enough. The senatorial landowners of both parties have allied to try Lugo in the Senate and remove him. As in the similar case of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, a pretext was needed. In Paraguay it has been the bloodshed that occurred in the clearance of squatters from an estate owned by a Colorado senator. The underlying reason is that Lugo had been making unwise remarks that, indeed, incited squatters to occupy estates.
The intention of most of the political class, in Paraguay and Honduras alike, has been the destruction of the inconvenient shit-stirrer, though it both cases it would have been possible to remove him by electoral means. In Honduras Zelaya was succeeded by Porfirio Lobo, who has since, by degrees, eased his way into international recognition of his rule. Such, too, is clearly the pretension of the senatorial coalition who have ousted Lugo. But, for the time being, the isolation of those who mounted the "legal coup" is almost total.
The mandates of Vicente Fox and Calderón have changed Mexico, notably by freeing the media, so that even if the PRI wins, it is hard to imagine a return to the "perfect dictatorship" the party ran for 70 years. But Paraguay is a different country. Democracy there is very much a hothouse plant, which needs more care than even a bishop can give it.
In Paraguay the disconcerting element was the electoral victory of a total outsider: the ex-prelate