Monday, June 25, 2012

Lugo Impeachment Constitutional, But Still a Setback for Democracy

Paraguay’s new president, former vice president Federico Franco, was sworn into office during a procedure that was technically constitutional, but still weakens Paraguay’s democracy, many observers concluded after the swift removal of Fernando Lugo from office last Friday. Lugo only had nine months remaining of his five-year term and was not eligible to run for office again. He is the fourth president in Paraguay’s history to face impeachment. But deep-rooted opposition from the conservative bloc, as well as his own political missteps, allowed Friday’s events to happen as quickly as they did. 

“In this era of globalization, it appears that even impeachment proceedings, which should be measured and deliberate given what is at stake, have become accelerated,” President of the Inter-American Dialogue Michael Shifter told the New York Times. “The Congress may have acted in accordance with the Constitution, but this is a setback for democracy nonetheless.”

"If you apply the criteria of 'poor performance' to Europe, most of the presidents would be impeached today," another political analyst told the Wall Street Journal. “This is politically motivated. And that's why a number of governments are coming out saying this is unconstitutional and we won't recognize it, because the law has obviously been twisted."

A post by the Cato Institute last Friday argued that while removing Lugo from office could be a “premature decision, or an example of bad politics in a country where politicians excel in doing wrong,” it was still a legal and constitutional move, and therefore other countries should avoid imposing sanctions on Paraguay. But as analyst James Bosworth points out, even while the events cannot strictly be described as a “coup” -- doing so could weaken the true meaning of the word -- the process was still a serious setback for democracy in the region. The days of the obvious military coups are long gone, Bosworth argues:
Instead, we get these muddy incremental degradations of democracy in which an elected president (or in this case, a legislature) manipulates the institutions in his or her favor to consolidate power and force the other branches of government into submission.”

Bosworth also provides a helpful summary of the international reaction to Lugo’s impeachment, noting that some of the strongest condemnation came from Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, who called it a “break with democratic order.” Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs later said neither Brazil nor the other core members of MERCOSUR -- Argentina and Uruguay -- could interfere in Paraguay’s internal affairs, as the entire impeachment process was conducted in accordance with the Constitution, reports the AFP.

The region's other most important economic bloc, MERCOSUR, “energetically” condemned the results in Paraguay, describing the results as an “express” impeachment. South American governments, including Uruguay and Brazil, recalled their ambassadors from the country for consultations. Another strong reaction came from Venezuela, after President Hugo Chavez said they would be cutting off oil exports to the Southern Cone country, and Argentina, whose President Cristina Kirchner called the proceedings a coup.

Now it remains to be seen whether Lugo will continue to critique the Franco regime from afar, after he said that he accepted Congress’s decision last Friday in order to avoid a “blood bath.” According to Mercopress, he has said that he plans to attend the MERCOSUR summit on June 29. Many of Lugo’s supporters rallied around a public television station in Asuncion, which was taken over by police Sunday night. Lugo has also said he intends to set up a parallel government that aims to restore him to power.

As the AP’s analysis points out, Friday’s proceedings wouldn’t have happened at all if Lugo hadn’t so thoroughly alienated members of his own party, the Liberals, who adamantly supported the impeachment process. “The failure of Lugo to maintain any sort of significant support from anybody meant that when it happened, it happened incredibly fast, and there was no outpouring of support at all,” political scientist Greg Weeks told the AP. “Basically Lugo made everybody mad,” he added.


News Briefs
  • Saturday, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent shot and killed an armed suspect in Honduras while accompanying local security forces during a drug-smuggling raid. “The agent involved in this incident fired in self-defense, as permitted under DEA rules and those of the host country,” a spokeswoman for the DEA told the New York Times. The AP provides a more detailed look at the agency’s special mission in Honduras, working with police to quickly track suspicious drug flights. In a little over two months, the team has helped intercept more than half the number of drug flights intercepted over the past year and a half. But this latest incident echoes the shooting last month which community leaders say killed four civilians, after Honduran forces, in the presence of the DEA, opened fire on a boat said to be transporting smugglers. The New York Times describes a video of the raid that only adds to the confusion over what actually happened. The video shows a larger boat ramming into the smaller boat carrying the Honduran and US agents, followed by a burst of gunfire. This directly contradicts an account by a witness interviewed by the Times, a woman who says she was shot in the legs and that the larger boat was her river taxi.
  • The conclusion of the Rio+20 conference saw disappointing results, as expected, compared to the first Rio summit meeting which saw the signing of two key treaties on climate change and biodiversity. “In the end, this conference was a conference to decide to have more conferences,” concludes the AP. Global leaders did however commit to a total of $513 billion in pledges to improve accessibility to clean water, sanitation and sustainable energy, reports the LA Times. The New York Times notes that while “The Obama administration offered no grand public gestures here,” the hundreds of environmental groups which attended the meeting did sign plenty of “side agreements” outside of the formal negotiations, which may actually be easier to enforce. An entertaining post at Rio Real describes life in Rio de Janeiro during the giant conference, and concludes that, “All in all, much of Rio + 20 didn’t augur well for the Pope’s visit next year, the 2014 World Cup games in Rio, nor the 2016 Olympics.” Blogger Riogringa also writes that traffic was a major problem in the city during the conference, and highlights the city’s need to expand its public transportation system.
  • The New York Times on the discovery earlier this year of a mass grave in Mexico (see map) containing the bodies of a dozen of dead women and girls. The Times argues that Juarez may be entering a second wave of femicide killings, in which many of the murders are likely related to a variety of reasons: drugs, gangs, domestic violence, or a combination of these factors. Fox News Latino also calls attention to Juarez’s violence, profiling a family of 20 people currently seeking asylum in El Paso.
  • The US plans to expand drone flights into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to fight drug smuggling, reports the LA Times.
  • Global Post with a new special looking at oil production in Brazil, where recently discovered deepwater deposits could make the country one of the world’s top oil producers. The series explores what obstacles stand in the way of Brazil meeting its ambitious targets on oil production, as well as the reaction of the US oil lobby.
  • The New York Times uses the recent killing of a journalist in Veracruz, Mexico, to examine rising violence levels in the state, where nine journalists have been killed in the past year and a half.
  • The Miami Herald looks at several US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, which find no evidence of extensive money laundering in Cuba, but point out that neither the government nor the media releases reliable statistics on this phenomenon.
  • Mexican authorities retracted their announcement last week that they arrested the son of Sinaloa Cartel drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, reports the LA Times
  • The AP uses an international anti-drug conference hosted by Lima, Peru, which will see the attendance of more than 59 countries, as a reason to look at Peru’s national anti-drug strategies.
  • Sunday saw the fourth day of a strike by Bolivian police, who have rejected a deal with the government that would raise their wages to about $224 a month. The police are seeking a monthly salary of $300 on month, about the same amount earned by army sergeants, reports the AP. President Evo Morales said that he suspects the strike was orchestrated for political ends by the opposition, says BBC Mundo.
  • Opinion from Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the Wall Street Journal argues that whoever places second in Mexico’s presidential election next Sunday could influence Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto’s time in office. A second place finish for leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador could harm Peña Nieto’s mandate, while a second place finish for National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vásquez Mota would confirm the theory that “Mexico's rising middle class is increasingly unconvinced that [Obrador’s] brand of populism is worth pursuing.” Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer concludes that “a Peña Nieto victory would probably not turn Mexico into the ‘perfect dictatorship’ that it was during much of the 20th Century, but it could turn it into a more imperfect democracy than it has been over the past decade.” In other election-related news, the LA Times with analysis on the candidates’ security proposals, concluding that none offer any serious alternatives to the strategies pursued by President Felipe Calderon.
  • While the presidential vote may see the inevitable return of the PRI to power, Mexico City is a different story, where many are expecting another landslide victory for progressive party the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), reports the AP. Such is the PRD’s hold in the capital that Peña Nieto has only hosted one major political rally in the city so far during his campaign.