ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — A 54-year-old engineer who entered the presidential campaign late has vowed to unite Paraguayans after winning a weekend election for the ruling Colorado Party.
Originally the vice presidential nominee, Raul Cubas Grau became the presidential candidate after former army Gen. Lino Oviedo, the winner of a September 1997 primary, was imprisoned in the middle of the campaign.
Cubas says Paraguayans now must work together to solve grave social and economic problems in this landlocked South American nation.
“Today the victory is complete,” he said. “Let us begin the work of helping Paraguay over the next five years.”
With votes counted at 6,764 sites — or nearly 66 percent of the polling stations nationwide — Cubas won 591,038 votes in Sunday’s presidential vote, 54 percent of the ballots cast.
Domingo Laino of the opposition Democratic Alliance placed second, with 463,818 votes or 42 percent, preliminary returns showed.
Sunday’s vote begins the first peaceful transition from one civilian president to another since a 35-year dictatorship ended in 1989 with the toppling of military leader Alfredo Stroessner.
The bond between Cubas and Oviedo runs deep. Every day, Cubas visits Oviedo at an army base in the capital, where Oviedo is imprisoned.
Last month, Paraguay’s Supreme Court upheld a 10-year sentence Oviedo was given by a military court in midcampaign on charges he rebelled against President Carlos Wasmosy in April 1996.
Cubas has hinted he would try to find a way to free Oviedo if elected. “We have the dubious honor of having the only political prisoner in South America,” he said.
Cubas, who joined the Colorado Party in 1964, studied electrical engineering in Brazil before working in the state energy monopoly and later in private enterprise.
In 1994, Cubas served briefly as economics minister under Wasmosy, whose five-year term ends Aug. 15.
Cubas has promised to attract new foreign investment, reform Paraguay’s prison system, decentralize education and attack deep poverty in this nation of 4.6 million people, where unemployment tops 15 percent.
Cubas is married and has two daughters, 19 and 25.
Since 1973 he has taken part in off-road car racing, including Paraguay’s grueling Chaco rally, which he vows to continue.
“Everyone has their sport, and nobody seems to mind when Bill Clinton plays golf,” Cubas said.