Paraguay’s Senate is set to begin the trial of President Fernando Lugo today, after the House voted 76-1 Thursday to impeach him. At least two-thirds of the 45 members of the Senate would have to vote for removal of the president, and it is likely that the opposition could rally this bloc of support. Vice President Federico Franco, a strong critic of Lugo who reportedly was planning to run for office himself in 2013, would then take over. Lugo has called
the process an “express coup attempt.” The secretary general of the presidency said it was “clearly a setup,” reports Reuters
Paraguay’s largest media organization, ABC, has a timeline
for how Friday’s developments should play out. The president will have two hours to defend himself this afternoon.
While the impeachment vote was prompted by last week’s bloody confrontation over land rights in Canindeyu province, which left at least 15 people, Bloggings by Boz points out
this is only one of five charges presented against Lugo: “The other four involve using a military base for a political activity in 2009, involvement in a previous land conflict in Ñacunday, the signing of Ushuaia II agreement last year in Montevideo and the general citizen security crisis that the government has failed to fix in the country.”
Lugo’s political allies have been steadily turning against him for years, and the impeachment process is partly indicative of just how much Lugo has fallen out of favor. One issue that the Lugo administration struggled with in particular was security. Despite declaring several “states of emergency” intended to hunt down elusive guerrilla group the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), the government was repeatedly embarrassed when it failed to deliver visible results.
In some ways, the political opposition used the issue of the EPP as a way to attack Lugo and depict him as weak on security. This is even though the EPP is hardly Paraguay’s most serious security threat: the group is thought to have no more than 50 members, and some critics have contested that it doesn’t really exist. The contraband, drugs and weapons smuggling, and presence of international militias like Hezbollah in Paraguay’s Triple Frontier area is arguably a much bigger concern. But Lugo was possibly under political pressure to make the campaign against the EPP a central tenet of his security policy: as the first president to break decades of rule by the conservative Colorado party, he faced intense scrutiny from the right. As a result, it is debatable whether he prioritized the fight against the EPP over other security issues in order to distance himself from the radical left. But when the government failed to strike any significant blows against the EPP, this opened Lugo up to even further criticism that he failed to fix Paraguay’s security problems, and contributed to his plummeting popularity.
Lugo also faced criticism for failing to carrying out the ambitious land reform project he promised during his campaign, but it appears that peasant and land activist groups still represent a key source of support. “Lugo isn’t fulfilling his main election promise of carrying out agrarian reform but it is not his fault,” one prominent land activist told the AP
. “The fault lies with a judicial system that blocks all attempts to expropriate land in the hands of foreigners or to recover formerly state land that was given to supporters of the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner.”
Nevertheless, it bears pointing out that Lugo’s support from this sector has also dropped dramatically. Upside Down World has
a translation of an interview with one leader of the Paraguayan Campesino Movement, who states, “We have given up believing in the president; he is not keeping his promises.”
One immediate risk is that Lugo’s removal from office could provoke a strong reaction from the president’s supporters, which still include several land activist groups. 9,000 police have already been deployed in capital Asuncion. “We are not going to escape turbulence, it’s coming,” one political analyst told the AP. “If you were to ask me, I’d tell you to go to the supermarket and buy batteries, buy everything.”
The strongest international reaction came from UNASUR, which convened an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the latest developments, and which sent a delegation to Paraguay. Bolivian President Evo Morales also condemned the decision.
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