Paraguay is an oft-forgotten, landlocked country in the heart of South America with just 6.5 million people and one of the lowest GDP per capita on the continent (it’s half of Peru’s and just one-third of Venezuela’s), and it has only a very shaky foundation in democratic institutions.
So it was with some alarm on Friday that its president Fernando Lugo was impeached and removed from office four years into his term on the basis of “poor performance” after a botched police raid resulted in 17 deaths last week:
Speaking on national television on Thursday, Mr Lugo said he would not resign, but “face the consequences” of the trial. He accused his opponents of carrying out an “express coup d’etat”.
But the Paraguayan chamber of deputies voted rapidly and overwhelmingly in favor of impeachment, and the Paraguayan senate followed with a move to remove Lugo on Friday.
Lugo’s vice president, Federico Franco, has now assumed the presidency and has announced he will serve out the rest of Lugo’s term until the April 2013 presidential election, although Mercosur has not recognized Franco’s takeover and other Latin American leaders have rejected Lugo’s impeachment as a coup d’etat. The United States has urged caution, but the key question for Paraguay is whether the Organization of American States and the Union of South American Nations will take a united front against the impeachment — and Franco is taking efforts to keep the impeachment from turning into an international crisis.
Lugo’s removal gained nearly unanimous support in the Paraguayan Congress, from not only the opposition Partido Colorado, but also from the center-right Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (the “Authentic Liberal Radical Party” or PLRA) of Lugo’s vice president, a one-time ally. Nonetheless, both Dionisio Borda, the finance minister, and Jorge Corvalán, the president of Paraguay’s central bank resigned on Saturday.
Given that the most vociferous criticism of the impeachment is coming from countries with more leftist governments, including Ecuador, Argentina and the Dominican Republic, it seems more likely that Latin American officials will split on the basis of ideological differences — more leftist officials will be much more likely to view the impeachment as a coup and more right-wing officials will view the impeachment as legitimate.
Lugo ran for election four years ago chiefly on a platform of redistributing land to Paraguayan peasants, so it is ironic that his impeachment stems directly from a botched eviction of landless tenants by police that resulted in 17 deaths.