April 23, 2009 / 6:47 PM / 9 years ago

Leader hit by third paternity claim

ASUNCION (Reuters) - A third woman in two weeks has claimed that Paraguay’s bishop-turned-president Fernando Lugo fathered her child, intensifying a political scandal that has made him the butt of lewd jokes and even a pop song.

<p>Paraguay's President Fernando Lugo attends a ceremony in which he swore in new cabinet ministers, in the Lopez presidential palace April 23, 2009. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno</p>

Damiana Moran, a teacher aged 39, told local media that Lugo was the father of her 1-year-old son and she was negotiating child support with the president’s lawyer.

Two days after going public, a second woman, Benigna Leguizamon, 27, filed a lawsuit Wednesday to get Lugo to take a DNA test to prove he is the father of her 6-year-old boy.

Earlier this month, Viviana Carrillo, 26, stunned Paraguayans when she revealed that Lugo, known as the “bishop of the poor” before he quit the church in late 2006 to run for president, was the father of her son, who is almost 2.

The president recognized Carrillo’s boy as his son and even remarked that they looked alike, but he has not accepted or denied paternity in the two newer cases.

Many Paraguayans said he was brave to admit paternity in the first case, and women in his cabinet defended the 57-year-old leader even though Carrillo claimed she started having sex with Lugo when she was 16, below the legal age of consent in Paraguay.

Opposition politicians from the conservative Colorado Party, in power for decades before Lugo’s victory, railed that the president was a national embarrassment and not trustworthy but analysts said the political damage would be light.

“Yes, a lot of people are indignant and it will damage Lugo’s image, but it’s not going to become a question of state or interrupt the government,” said analyst Alfredo Boccia.

He predicted that the paternity suits would soon move onto the back pages as Paraguayans turn their attention back to perennial issues such as poverty as the economy stumbles.

NO DENIALS

The president’s office said it was setting up a team to handle the complaints and related media requests.

<p>Damiana Hortensia Moran Amarrilla speaks during a news conference about her one-year-old child she claims was fathered by President Fernando Lugo, in San Lorenzo on the outskirts of Asuncion April 22, 2009. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno</p>

Lugo was elected a year ago at the head of a center-left coalition and took office in August, pledging land reform to help poor peasants in the landlocked South American nation that exports beef, soy, and electricity.

After his election, Lugo won a rare dispensation from the Vatican allowing him to return to lay status.

Most of Paraguay’s 6 million people are Roman Catholics but, as in other Latin American countries, many people have low expectations of priests after repeated pedophilia scandals.

Political commentators said Lugo’s failure to make good on his promises of cleaning up corruption and finding land for poor farmers would hurt him more than paternity suits.

“In Paraguay, we don’t punish people for moral mistakes. This isn’t the United States. But, if he continues being inefficient in governing that will be a much bigger scandal,” Bernardino Cano Radil, a former congressman with the Colorado Party, told Nanduti radio station.

Many jokes making the rounds in Asuncion focus on Lugo having broken his vows of celibacy as a bishop but apparently respecting church rules against condoms.

“Lugo’s got heart, but he didn’t use a condom,” go the lyrics of a dance tune being played on the radio.

In fact, in a macho country such as Paraguay, some said Lugo could gain status by breaking priestly vows.

Lugo’s brother Pompeyo Lugo told Argentine radio love is more important than celibacy, which goes against human nature, and said the president had lived the greatest love story in Paraguay in a century.

According to the women there were multiple love stories. Carrillo met him when he stayed at the home of her godmother and that he seduced her with his way of talking.

Leguizamon said she met Lugo when she went to the church for help with her first baby, whose father had abandoned her.

Moran told ABC newspaper her son “is the fruit of a relationship that came out of a great love, total surrender.”

Additional reporting by Mariel Cristaldo, Writing by Fiona Ortiz, Editing by Anthony Boadle

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