With Paraguay president’s coalition broken, Congress stalls until his term ends

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Mr. Lugo has handed out $50 a month each to poor families in a small program known as Tekopora -“beautiful people,” in the native Guarani spoken by most of Paraguay’s poor.

It’s modeled on the welfare policies that keep children in school and vaccinated across much of Latin America. But the payments reach just 93,000 of the nation’s 6.8 million people.

Lawmakers said expanding the program would be a waste of money.

“Not a single family receiving this money has abandoned in 36 months its condition of poverty,” said House budget commission President Olga Ferreira of the opposition Patria Querida party, who called the anti-poverty fight “a complete failure.”

Lugo gives them money, but he doesn’t teach them how to go out and earn their daily bread with their own sweat,” she said.

Sen. Juan Manuel Boveda, an ally of retired general and convicted coup-plotter Lino Cesar Oviedo, said the welfare payments only serve to strengthen leftist parties.

And Hector Cristaldo, president of a coalition of soy-producing landowners, said “the program should really be called ‘Tekorei pora’ ” - “beautiful but lazy.”

Mr. Lugo plans to work from Monday through Thursday during the summer weeks, but he, too, seems weary, distracted by his treatments for lymphatic cancer, isolated politically and frustrated by criticism in the media.

The leftist coalition he led three years ago has fallen apart. He hardly speaks with his vice president, Federico Franco, and has gone 18 months without formally talking to reporters.

He did push through the right to vote for Paraguayan citizens living outside of the country, and persuaded Brazil to nearly triple the amount it pays for electricity from their shared Itaipu dam. But that money, too, has remained tightly under congressional control.

In seeming desperation, he proposed some form of power-sharing agreement last month, a “governability pact” between political parties that could jointly run the country until the end of his term.

Not a single group among his political friends or foes reacted to his offer.

Instead, Congress cut $1 billion from Mr. Lugo’s proposed $12 billion budget for 2012. The money would have gone to raises for doctors, nurses and teachers; land reforms; programs to house the homeless and improve schools, and an expansion of welfare.

Workers had campaigned for weeks for their promised raises, occupying the plaza outside Congress. Five hundred homeless people set up shelters inside Asuncion’s zoo, suggesting that even monkeys get better housing. Riot police, themselves getting just a fraction of their promised raises, used water cannons, tear gas and clubs to remove them.

Far from being a savior, the sandal-wearing priest-turned-president has disappointed many among the poor.

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