Paraguay: President Lugo is Impeached
Lugo is impeached and Federico Franco named as his successor; new government faces allegations of attempted censorship; British Embassy to reopen in Asunción
Lugo ousted following brief impeachment trial
This week in Paraguay was punctuated by extreme political turbulance and unrest which culminated in the impeachment of now ex-President of the Republic, Fernando Lugo.
President Lugo was tried for five acts of malfeasance, specifically with regards to his role in the recent Curuguaty massacre which left 17 dead. The massacre of peasants being evicted from their land, which turned the international gaze towards Paraguay, led to the resignation of home secretary Carlos Filizzola and head of the police force, Paulino Rojas last week.
The motion to try Lugo for impeachment was announced on Thursday afternoon after an overwhelming majority was reached in the Chamber of Deputies of 76 votes to 1.
Lugo was then given less than 24 hours to prepare his defence before his trial, which was scheduled for 16.30 the following day.
The trial, which took place as scheduled, lasted a mere two hours before the announcement was made that Lugo had been found guilty by the Paraguayan Congress. 39 senators had voted in favour of his impeachment, with only 4 representatives voting in his defence.
Following his ousting, Lugo gave a speech in which he said ‘today, it is not Fernando Lugo that has received a blow, it is not Fernando Lugo that has been impeached, it is Paraguay’s history and its democracy which has been deeply wounded’.
He finished by assuring the Paraguayan public that he will ‘always be found’ fighting for ‘social justice’ and ‘peace’ amongst the civilians of his country. He also urged the population to continue to peacefully protest for their rights, avoiding violence at all costs.
Following his ousting, it was announced that Vice President Federico Franco of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (Authentic Radical Liberal Party- PLRA) would be succeeding Lugo as the new President of the Republic of Paraguay. As former allies, Lugo and Franco have experienced a difficult relationship in recent years.
Franco then gave a speech in congress, declaring that he faced a ‘difficult situation’ and that he recognised that there would be difficulties with the ‘international community’. He also assured that Lugo’s trial fell within the country’s constitution, attempting to extinguish accusations that the overthrow was in any way illegal.
The swift nature of Lugo’s ousting has prompted international criticism from politicians and journalists alike. Many have accused the Paraguayan Senate of acting ‘undemocratically’, calling the situation a ‘parliamentary coup’.
In addition, the leaders of various Latin American countries have clubbed together to show their support for Lugo. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina called the situation a ‘coup d’état’ and assured that Argentina would not be recognising the new ‘undemocratic government of Paraguay’.
She subsequently ordered the removal of the Argentinean ambassador in Paraguay, Rafael Rom with immediate effect until ‘democratic order is restored’.
Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff was not far behind and swiftly announced that the Brazilian ambassador had been called back to the country for meetings in Brasilia regarding the situation.
Ecuador’s Rafael Correa also voiced his discontent saying that though ‘they wanted to overthrow Lugo with legal formalities [...] democracy is not solely based on legality, but also legitimacy’. He also said that the situation in Asunción fits the requirements for the application of UNASUR’s democratic charter.
In response, UNASUR suggested the expulsion of Paraguay from the organisation as well as the Mercado Común del Sur (Southern Common Market- MERCOSUR).
Meanwhile, Peruvian government official, Fredy Otárola called Franco a ‘dictator‘ and Chilean Chancellor, Alfredo Moreno, said that Lugo’s trial had not ‘complied with the minimum standards of the required processes of impeachment’.
Both Spain and the United States remained neutral on the subject, solely expressing their hope that the Paraguayan community would not resort to violent methods of protest.
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos appeared to be the only representative who defended the process, saying that though he lamented its swiftness, democracy had not been ‘broken‘.
Leaders of other Latin American nations such as Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua also spoke out against the ‘coup’. The new chancellor of Paraguay, José Félix Fernández hit back by saying that all of these claims had only been communicated via the international press, and that as of Saturday, there had been no official communications from any of the governments concerned.
The Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (The Union of South American Nations- UNASUR) announced on Thursday that they would be sending representatives to Asunción in order to ensure that Lugo’s trial was carried out legally.
In addition, the Organización de Estados Americanos (The Organisation of American States – OEA) called an emergency meeting on Friday afternoon in which they discussed the impending political crisis in Paraguay. The representatives of each American state agreed the necessity of defending the peace in the country during what they called a ‘coup in disguise’.
Bartomeu Melià, revered sociologist specialising in Paraguay, also condemned Lugo’s dismissal, calling the new government ‘spurious‘.
There were instances of violent protests following Franco’s inauguration into office, particularly emanating from the crowds of Lugo’s supporters which had gathered outside the congress to await the verdict.
Saturday marked a more peaceful day in terms of social reactions. However, there remains widespread concern with regards to the future of Paraguayan politics and a collective fear of the return to the country’s undemocratic past.
On Sunday BBC Mundo reported that Franco announced plans to attempt to enlist Lugo’s help in order to help to control the further escalation of regional difficulties.
With the growing pressure from outside the country, Franco will have a tremendous job on his hands during the 9 months of his presidency. His term in office will finish with the presidential elections in April of 2013.
New government faces censorship allegations
Hours into the presidency of Federico Franco, the government was hit with allegations of attempts to censor the national channel TV Pública Paraguay.
Franco’s new press adviser, Christian Vásquez went to the state funded station following the president’s inauguration ceremony to allegedly impose censorship over the publication of material and opinions filmed over the course of the ‘coup’.
The station’s head, Marcelo Martinessi has since released footage of the encounter accusing Vásquez of attempting to control the media’s freedom of expression in a move reminiscent of the stringent communication policies of the Stroessner regime.
Martinessi and the entire staff of the tv station subsequently resigned.
Últimahora journalist Miguel ‘Hache’ López, via his facebook page, called the move a ‘violent abuse of the fundamental principles of freedom of expression’.
In reaction, the TV station spearheaded a campaign called ‘open microphone’ urging Paraguayans to voice their opinions on the situation via an internet uploading site.
The station also organised protests outside the offices on Saturday evening, protesting for the freedom of expression. The protest was broadcast live on TV Pública with an open mic for the citizens to express their views.
The protest, which was attended by thousand of angry citizens, was paid an unexpected visit by Lugo who staged an impromptu press conference. He took the opportunity to reiterate his belief that the Paraguayan public had been hit by a ‘parliamentary coup d’état’.
He also confirmed his intention to remain involved with Paraguayan politics but admitted that he was cynical about the government’s intention to revise their decision in any way.
The station also organised a ‘festival against censorship’ which took place on Sunday outside the offices.
Vásquez hit back against the accusations, denying any attempt at enforcing censorship and claiming that he went to the station in order to ‘get to know’ the staff and tell them that they could ‘continue working without interruption’.
British Embassy to reopen in Asunción
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s announcement this week regarding the re-opening of the British Embassy in Paraguay provided some positive news amidst the political uproar.
Clegg said that ‘the British diplomatic presence in Paraguay will contribute to the unlocking of commercial opportunities for British companies in this important world economy’. He added that it would ‘allow the British government to work in collaboration with the Paraguayan government on regional issues such as the fight against drugs and organised crime’.
The British Embassy of Asunción closed in 2005. Since then, all relevant consultations have been outsourced to the British Embassy in Buenos Aires.
The move will improve British-Paraguayan relations and offer support to the country in what promises to be a turbulent few months.