Friday, June 22, 2012

Paraguay in Political Crisis as Senate Votes on Impeachment

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.

News Briefs
  • The presumed son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, was arrested Thursday by the Mexican Navy. According to the New York Times, it is possible that Jesus Alfredo Guzman could be extradited to the US, as he was indicted in 2009 by a court in Illinois. Authorities also describe Guzman as the head of a “cartel” in Sinaloa state, says the LA Times. His capture has been taken to mean that President Felipe Calderon remains intent on netting El Chapo before the July 1 presidential elections. Chapo already narrowly avoided an escape an attempt in resort city Los Cabos last March, when Secretary of State Hilary Clinto met there with other officials. His primary associate of the Sinaloa Cartel, “El Azul,” also recently avoided arrest, according to reports. The last time one of El Chapo’s son featured so prominently in media headlines was in 2008, when his son Edgar was killed by the Beltran Leyva Organization, which prompted an all-out war in Mexico’s border states, as the Sinaloa Cartel split into rival factions. 
  • President Rafael Correa said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could stay “indefinitely” in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Correa added that one point of discussion would have to be whether Assange could be guranteed safe passage, as British authorities have said they will arrest him as soon as he leaves the Embassy. Assange told Australian radio that he does not know whether Ecuador will approve his request for asylum, reports the AP. Elsewhere, Roger Noriega has an opinion piece criticizing Assange’s “breathless hypocrisy” in seeking asylum in a country with a poor record in defending independent journalism. 
  • The Washington Post reports on Mexico’s election oversight officials and their plan to ensure that 2012 avoids the controversy of the 2006 presidential election. The article notes that the main difference may be that this year, there is such a wide margin between the candidates, it is unlikely that any candidate could complain about electoral fraud in the case of a loss by a few percentage points. The Economist reports that, “If the PRI has managed to win its way back into Mexican hearts, that is partly a verdict on its opponents.”
  • The US cut $3 million in aid to Nicaragua, stating that the government has not been transparent about its use of public funds. Global Post reports that this slash in government aid may herald a bad omen for next month, when Washington votes on whether to continue supporting Nicaragua in multilateral lenders, a decision described as crucial for the future of Nicaragua’s economy. 
  • The New York Times looks at Brazil’s many infrastructure projects, some of which are facing delays because there isn’t enough labor to complete them. The government has ordered the projects partly in order to create jobs and stimulate the economy, but some critics say it could make the economy too dependent on the state. 
  • Infosur on the just-approved proposal for a tri-national police force that will patrol the borders between El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 
  • Argentina’s largest trucker’s union have called off their strike, after reaching a deal that would raise the salary of truck drivers. But union leaders called for another strike next Wednesday demanding lower income taxes, reports the Wall Street Journal. Another protest in the region saw Bolivian police strike for higher pay close to the presidential palace, reports the AP.
  • McClatchy with a report on residents from one Brazilian favela who may have to relocate to make way for new facilities being built for the 2016 Olympics. 
  • A Venezuelan indigenous group is demanding that a large stone, currently being used in Berlin for a park monument to global peace, be returned to their homeland. The German artist behind the park project says that when he removed the stone from Venezuela in 1997, he had permission from the government and that the indigenous community helped him select it.