During his campaign for the presidency of Paraguay, former bishop Fernando Lugo promised to bring health care to the millions unable to afford it. A month after Lugo took office in August 2008, the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare (MSPBS) gradually began to make some public health services free, waiving fees for office, outpatient and emergency room visits. Later, hospital admission fees were eliminated, along with charges for intensive care, post-op incision care, treatment in an infant incubator, oxygen therapy, surgery and other services. In 2009, fees were removed for diagnostic tests in all specialties, and for dental and ophthalmological services. Almost all public health services in Paraguay are now free of charge. “What we are doing is making health care a right, regardless of a person’s ability to pay,” said the director general of the MSPBS.

After 61 years of rule by the right-wing Colorado Party, the Paraguayan left needs to institute various reforms to make sure that free health care is sustainable in the long term.[1]

So what would it take for free health care to reach the shores of the world’s only superpower? Well, a president who believed in it and who had some backbone. But every passing day brings us fresh evidence that the man has no backbone. The Republicans, or certain Democrats, or a powerful lobby, or Israel applies a little pressure and the man buckles. Like a shack in Haiti during a quake.

As to his beliefs … In May of last year I wrote in this report: “The problem, I’m increasingly afraid, is that the man doesn’t really believe strongly in anything, certainly not in controversial areas. He learned a long time ago how to take positions that avoid controversy, how to express opinions without clearly and firmly taking sides, how to talk eloquently without actually saying anything, how to leave his listeners’ heads filled with stirring clichés, platitudes, and slogans. And it worked. Oh how it worked! What could happen now, as President of the United States, to induce him to change his style?”

How long before Fernando Lugo lets slip some critical remarks about the behemoth to the north that tosses Paraguay into the ODE (Officially Designated Enemy) dumpster along with Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, et al.? Undoubtedly, there are any number of old-time right-wing military officers in Paraguay who are just itching to duplicate what happened in Honduras. I can hear them now — “We don’t need no stinkin’ socialist government with its stinkin’ communist free health care” — and just waiting for someone at the Pentagon to casually nod his head. And if that happens, the Obama administration will embrace the Paraguayan caudillos just as they’ve done with the Honduran golpistas, the latest show of support being the announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the resumption of aid and her urging Latin American countries to recognize the new Honduran government, despite its serious and daily violations of human rights. [2]

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[1] Inter Press Service, January 6, 2010

[2] Associated Press, March 5, 2010