Vive Paraguay!

I was there.

Yesterday, Paraguay inaugurated its first democratically-elected president in more than 60 years. The political vestiges of a characteristically corrupt and brutal South American dictatorship literally [if only symbolically] handed over the keys to this characteristically corrupt and impoverished South American country to a 57 year-old ex-bishop wearing sandals and a homespun shirt.

Lugo’s first speech as president was inspiring, powerful at times. One line I will likely never forget; “I refuse to live in a world where some do not sleep because they are afraid, and others do not sleep because they are hungry.”

But Paraguayans are at times heartbreakingly pragmatic. And it’s difficult for even the young to believe he can or will do it. I’ve been here long enough not to have expected euphoria, but I was surprised by how tired, how ambivalent [in the most literal sense of the word] the crowd of 50,000 felt. It’s like all of Paraguay is trying to decide whether it dares to hope.

They cheered Chaves and Morales. They chanted for renegotiation of the Itaipu dam. The socialists sang some very catchy tunes. But the one time all morning that the kind of tangible wave of energy I so craved actually swept over that crowd was at the end of the ridiculously pompous national anthem when everyone, really everyone shouted, “Vive Paraguay!”

I’m actually not sure what the phrase means. Having only ever heard it shouted, I don’t know how it’s spelled and therefore can’t reverse-engineer the conjugation. If it’s indicative, it’s an exclamation; “Paraguay lives!” If it’s imperative, it’s a command, a challenge; “Live, Paraguay!”

Yesterday, in the centro, it felt like both.

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