22 June witnessed the deposition of Paraguay’s democratically elected President, Fernando Lugo. Known as the Bishop of the Poor, the election of the once Catholic priest brought an end to sixty-nine years of rule by the right-wing Colorado party. With no similar hesitation, after a hasty two-hour impeachment debate, Lugo lost the vote of confidence 39-4. He was charged with failing to maintain social harmony, after the deaths of over a dozen peasants and up to four policemen due to a spate of recent land repossessions. Vice-President and now vocal opponent, Federico Franco, has since been appointed as replacement.
Dogged by deep class divisions, many have labelled this coup illegal as it was carried out through barely constitutional methods; Franco argued that the political trial was carried out “in accordance with the constitution and the laws”. Many commentators have in fact pointed out that the due process was severely curtailed, as Lugo was given no more than twenty four hours to prepare his defence.
Paraguay has been suspended from Mercosur…
Questions of democracy are highly sensitive in a country that suffered decades under a state of siege. Opposition leaders vociferously defended their move, pointing to a constitution that allows the impeachment of leaders who place national security at harm. The circumstances of the deaths, however, are under significant doubt, with the peasant community accusing the police of a massacre and the politicos of opportunism.
The latest coup on the South American continent, however, is facing widespread condemnation across the region. Paraguay has been suspended from Mercosur until the next general election and also from UNASUR, the South American Union of Nations. With the country nine months from the next general election, many have questioned the timing and necessity of the coup.
…85% of Paraguay’s land is owned by a mere 2%…
The new right-wing leadership promises to more readily cooperate with the “Washington Consensus”. The government’s position has become immediately evident from their decision to oppose Venezuela’s admission into Mercosur. This was designed to undermine Hugo Chávez’s economic and diplomatic influence in the region and curry favour in the White House. After all, US agribusiness has extensive ownership of land in the country and up to Lugo’s election the Pentagon had run anti-terrorism military training programmes without opposition in Paraguay.
The parliamentary coup was supported by and carried out in the name of the very elite oligarchs that control the majority of the country’s terrain. It was undertaken to stymie the repossession movement spearheaded by landless peasants, since reform has been slow to materialise even during the last three years of the Lugo administration. Recently released World Bank statistics indicate that 85% of Paraguay’s land is owned by a mere 2% of the population, placing land at the heart of power politics in Paraguay.
The ex-president has announced that he will be forming a parallel government in reaction to what he believes is an illegal measure that will endanger the interests of his electorate. Regardless of the coup’s technically legal status, President Lugo’s removal was not a decision promoted or approved by the millions of landless peasants in Paraguay.