On Friday June 22, Paraguay’s president, Fernando Lugo, was removed from office in what many Latin American leaders, including Lugo himself, are calling a coup. Lugo, a former bishop who left the clergy to run for president, was the first president elected in over six decades who did not come from the right-wing Colorado Party. He won the presidency in 2008 on a coalition ticket of Paraguay’s primary opposition force, the Liberal Party, and other smaller leftist parties. However, the Liberals were always cautious of Lugo’s more leftist politics and were not supportive of much of the legislation that he tried to push through Congress.
The event that allegedly caused the Congress to start impeachment proceedings happened on June, 15th. Landless campesinos took over land owned by a Colorado Party Senator, some of which had been illegally given to him by a former Colorado dictator. When police officers confronted the campesinos, a shootout erupted; 6 police officers and at least 11 campesinos died. This incident gave Lugo’s critics in Congress the opportunity they were looking for and they jumped on the opportunity to start impeachment proceedings.
Though the Congress seems to have followed most of the legal procedures established in the Paraguayan Constitution, the rapidness of the process has led many to question its validity. The whole process took less than 48 hours, with little time for Lugo to prepare any defense. Although Lugo initially accepted the impeachment, he has since declared that he will seek to be reinstated and has set up a parallel government.
Leaders across Latin America were swift in condemning the actions by the Paraguayan Congress. The FMLN and President Funes joined the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador Venezuela, and Nicaragua in not recognizing the new government. Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Colombia among others have pulled their ambassadors from Paraguay and regional coordination bodies, including the Organization of American States, MERCOSUR and UNASUR are all considering some sort of sanctions against Paraguay.
El Salvador has called for the SICA, the Central American Regional Integration System, to put the situation of Paraguay on the agenda at their meeting this week and for all of the member countries to take positions similar to El Salvador’s.
Unfortunately governments in other parts of the world have not followed the trend in Latin America; several have even recognized the new interim president, including Canada, Spain, Germany and the Vatican. The US issued a non-committal statement which called for “all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility, in the spirit of Paraguay’s democratic principles,” without saying whether they will recognize the new government.
The aftermath in Paraguay may prove to have some resemblance to what happened after the coup in Honduras, the three year anniversary of which will be marked with protest by the Honduran social movement on June 28. In particular, elections in Paraguay are scheduled for May 2013; if Lugo is not quickly re-instated, other governments, including the US, might advocating “waiting” until the elections to “restore democracy,” similar to what happened in Honduras.
The illegal impeachment of President Lugo raises concerns for El Salvador and other countries with new progressive or left governments. Though this was not the type of coup that happened in Latin American during the 70’s and 80’s where military generals took over the presidential palace in midnight raids, what happened in Paraguay demonstrates a new style of coup, where some branch of the government uses quasi-legal means to “legitimize” its disposal of the president.