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Jun 22, 2012 | 22:22 GMT

5 mins read

Paraguayan President Impeached

Paraguayan President Faces Impeachment Trial
NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP/GettyImages

Update: June 22, 2012

The Paraguayan Senate voted to impeach Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo at 5:30 p.m. The vote came in at 39 in favor of impeachment, four against and two absent. The move appears to be the culmination of a legal process begun on June 20 when the Colorado Party filed a motion to impeach Lugo. The process has been met with strong reactions in Paraguay, where thousands of Lugo supporters have gathered outside the Legislative Palace. A reported 10,000 police have been deployed in the city and snipers are stationed atop the legislature, although the latter is considered standard procedure. Lugo himself is believed to be in the Presidential Palace with his ministers.

Tensions are high in Asuncion, and we expect that the public reaction to Lugo's impeachment may be chaotic and violent in the city. The international reaction will also be strong. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has issued an official objection to the proceedings, alleging that they violate democratic principals, and has called an emergency meeting.

The question going forward will be whether the member states of UNASUR move in any way to reinstate Lugo. The foreign state with the most influence in Paraguay is Brazil. Although Brazil generally has a non-interventionist diplomatic policy, Brasilia could get involved in this situation due to its strong stance on democratic principals and its objections to the speed with which the impeachment was carried out. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff already has threatened to seek Paraguay's expulsion from the regional trading bloc Mercosur.

Summary

The Paraguayan Senate is set to hold a trial against Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo on June 22. Lugo is accused of having mismanaged his duties in such a way as to have permitted the deaths of 11 civilians and six police officers in a June 15 clash between landless workers, known as carperos, and police over a land dispute. Developments over the past 24 hours have evolved rapidly, with Paraguay's lower house voting June 21 to put Lugo on trial. A final verdict is expected June 22 from the Paraguayan Senate around 4:30 p.m. Lugo said June 22 that he would sue the legislature for violating the constitution.

The speed with which Paraguay's political parties have united against Lugo in these impeachment proceedings is notable. But despite what appears to be political unity in opposition to Lugo, there remains the chance that pressure from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) will force Paraguay's Senate to hold back from an immediate impeachment.

Analysis

Lugo's trial before the Paraguayan Senate will take place in a very hostile environment. Lugo's election in 2008 ended more than 60 years of rule by the Colorado Party. He was able to do this with the support of a coalition of parties united by the cause of breaking the power of Colorado. One of these parties was the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA), which controls just over 30 percent of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate and is the second-largest party in Paraguay. Since Lugo's election, the PLRA has broken with the coalition and now stands in alliance with the Colorado Party in opposition to Lugo.

This is not the first challenge to Lugo's presidency. Lugo came to power promising to redistribute land to Paraguay's poor. His tenure has been plagued by controversy over landless worker movements. There has been no substantive shift in land ownership in Paraguay, but there has been a substantial degree of related unrest. Although Paraguay is a poor, landlocked country, it has a relatively strong military and a history of military control. Rumors have cropped up during Lugo's presidency that the military was considering a coup to replace him.

Lugo has been a weak president. He achieved the presidency only with the support of a loose coalition of center-left parties, and afterward the unity of his backers quickly fragmented. In this light, the possibility of his impeachment is not entirely surprising, though it can be expected to generate substantial unrest.

Paraguay does not operate in isolation, however, and there may be international consequences. Foreign ministers from UNASUR members Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Uruguay met the night of June 21 with Lugo in Paraguay to discuss the situation. Simultaneously, the majority of the presidents of UNASUR member countries met on the sidelines of the Rio+20 development summit.

UNASUR states have universally expressed support for Lugo and have criticized the speed with which the Paraguayan legislature moved to remove him from office. Brazilian officials are privately calling the move an attempted coup, according to the daily Folha de Sao Paulo. The group may choose not to recognize the new government if Lugo is impeached and his vice president, PLRA party member Federico Franco, takes power. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who has had his own troubles with domestic disputes, stated that the group was considering closing the borders of Paraguay in the event of Lugo's impeachment.

Paraguay is doubly landlocked in that it relies heavily on its neighbors, particularly Brazil and Argentina, for access to global trade markets. The country is highly reliant on agricultural exports as a source of income and has very few resources and almost no leverage over its neighbors. The threat of economic or physical isolation is a serious one for Paraguay. Furthermore, the members of UNASUR all have individual reasons to fear that if they fail to intervene, the Paraguayan legislature's moves may set a precedent for fractious political parties throughout the region. UNASUR's commitment to intervening in domestic affairs in situations such as this was seen clearly in the 2010 police riots in Ecuador and in the 2009 coup in Honduras.

Though it is too soon to tell whether Lugo's presidency will survive this political trial, the immediate involvement of UNASUR countries demonstrates the region's commitment to using multilateral pressure where possible to prevent the ouster of national leaders. And in this case, when the country of concern is as vulnerable as Paraguay, such a concerted regional effort may force the Paraguayan opposition to reconsider its position.

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