It’s been almost three weeks since Paraguay’s congress voted to impeach and oust its president, Fernando Lugo.
The whole affair has been odd from the beginning, given that it came just 10 months before the next presidential election, and it has left regional trade blocs like Mercosur and the Organization of American States in an awkward position.
On the one hand, the impeachment was conducted in accordance with Paraguayan law — this wasn’t a military coup, but an overwhelming vote duly taken by its congress. And the vote wasn’t even close — it garnered support from not just the Partido Colorado, which Lugo defeated in 2008 to end 61 continuous years of Colorado rule, but also from the center-right Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (the “Authentic Liberal Radical Party” or PLRA) to which Lugo’s vice president, one-time ally and, now, Paraguay’s new president, Federico Franco, belonged.
On the other hand, it’s easy to find a lot amiss with the affair — debate lasted for just two hours before the final vote, hardly the kind of constitutional due process you would expect from such a weighty matter as impeachment. For that matter, the cause for impeachment wasn’t abuse of power, corruption, nothing more scandalous than “poor performance.” It’s an ominous sign for a country just establishing democratic norms, and it sets a dangerous precedent for the future.
From the outset, more conservative regimes saw the move as constitutionally permissible; more leftist regimes immediately saw a soft coup.
So Mercosur, bolstered by center-left Brazil and Argentina (each of which has a special distaste for extraconstitutional regime change) immediate moved to suspend Paraguay through at least next April’s presidential election. In a further slap, Mercosur has fast-tracked the accession of Venezuela, whose president Hugo Chavez has been a particularly vocal supporter of Lugo, into the trading bloc.
Meanwhile, the OAS has taken a more tentative approach — its secretary-general José Miguel Insulza has said a suspension would only cause more difficulty for Paraguay. Continue reading As Lugo fades, Paraguay enters diplomatic purgatory