ASUNCION, Paraguay (Reuters) - Pope Francis urged Paraguay to consolidate democracy and end corruption and drug trafficking, after receiving a colorful welcome on Friday at the start of the last leg of his eight-day South American tour.
The Argentine-pontiff was in Bolivia earlier in the day where he visited one of Latin America’s most violent prisons. There, saying he too had made mistakes and sinned, the pope called on inmates to shun gang violence and exhorted guards to treat them with dignity..
The pope’s reception in the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion, included women dancing in long swaying dresses as Paraguayan Guarania music played and people dressed as saints with halos were carried on platforms.
His first stop after the airport was a brief, unscheduled visit to the Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) women’s prison, where inmates sang for him in an outside courtyard.
Later, in an address to Paraguay’s leaders after a private meeting with President Horacio Cartes, Francis said: “For some years now, Paraguay has sought to build a solid and stable democracy. It is proper to recognize with satisfaction progress made in this direction.”
But he said Paraguay ”must banish the temptation to be
satisfied with a purely formal democracy,” and its governments “based on the promotion of and respect for human rights.”
Paraguay’s previous president was thrown out of power by Congress.
Paraguay has had its share of human rights violations over the last 60 years. In 1954 General Alfredo Stroessner seized power in coup, ushering in more than 30 years of dictatorship.
In 1989 Stroessner himself was tossed out of power in a coup by General Andres Rodriguez, who was then elected president while Stroessner’s conservative Colorado Party won parliamentary elections.
The Colorado party held center stage in Paraguayan politics until 2008 when leftist former bishop Fernando Lugo won the presidency. His government was buffeted the next year by a scandal in which several women claimed he fathered children with them while he was a Catholic bishop.
Four years later Lugo was impeached and ousted by Congress because of his handling of a land eviction in which 17 people were killed. In 2013 Cartes, a wealthy businessman, won the presidency back for the Colorado party.
Francis called for an end to violence and drug trafficking and “increased administrative transparency and unceasing efforts to combat corruption.”
Drugs are a regional issue for South America. The Triple Frontier - where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentine meet at a notoriously lawless Paraguayan city called Ciudad del Este – is a nagging concern for anti-narcotics agencies.
Francis noted Paraguay’s economic growth but said the country’s leaders should always remember the poor.
“An economic development which fails to take into account the weakest and underprivileged is not an authentic development. Economic progress must be measured by the integral dignity of the human person, especially the most vulnerable and helpless,” Francis said.
Paraguay’s economy has grown at a steady clip in recent years because of energy exports and soy prices but the Church and the opposition say more resources should be used to help those on the margins of society.
Additional reporting by Mariel Cristaldo and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Grant McCool