Yesterday, Paraguay’s Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach President Fernando Lugo. The vote came after seventeen people died in a conflict between landless farmers and police forces who were sent to evict the peasants from a farm this past Sunday. Lugo has received much of the blame for the violence, given his role in ordering the police to dispatch the squatters; additionally, many who supported Lugo’s election four years ago in the hopes that Lugo, as the first president in 61 years not to hail from the Colorado party (with former military dictator Alfredo Stroessner serving for 35 of those 61 years). Some analysts have even suggested the impeachment is a case of partisan politics, with the conservative Colorado majority in the Chamber trying to remove the progressive president who broke their hegemony over the executive branch.
While the impeachment vote was abrupt, Paraguay’s neighbors were quick to react. UNASUR is already sending a delegation to Paraguay to “ensure the right to defend democracy” in the landlocked country. Meanwhile, individual diplomats and presidents also spoke harshly about the impeachment:
UNASUR Secretary General Ali Rodriguez of Venezuela, speaking to reporters here, later expressed “grave concern” over the proceedings and said Lugo must be given “due process” and the right to defend himself.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa went further, warning that Lugo’s impeachment without due process could lead the regional bloc to sever ties with Paraguay over a “democracy clause” written into its charter.
“We cannot recognize a new government, and may even have to close the borders,” Correa told reporters late Thursday at the UN summit in Brazil.
For his part, Lugo has refused to resign, insisting he will defend himself before the Senate today, in accordance with the constitutionally-defined proceedings for impeachment. At the same time, he has also appealed to the Supreme Court, saying the process is unconstitutional due to its failure to provide him with enough time to prepare his defense (the vote was just yesterday, while he is supposed to defend himself before the Senate today at noon in Asucion). He makes a strong argument in this appeal – as I commented here, if it is legal to impeach a president that quickly, then Paraguay’s Congress will effectively have demonstrated that it can remove a president at will over partisanship rather than over violating the constitution.
Still, his impeachment is not guaranteed, as he needs a 2/3 vote for conviction (though the Chamber also needed a 2/3 vote to bring forth charges, a majority that it had no trouble acquiring). At least for now, though, Lugo’s refusal to resign is an important step in ensuring democratic processes in Paraguay, as he has made clear through his willingness to endure the impeachment that the opposition-led Legislative branch cannot simply pressure a president from another party to step down. That said, Lugo’s continuity as president (he is scheduled to leave office after elections next year) is far from certain, and his removal could have significant political, economic, and social consequences for years to come. It will certainly be worth watching what happens in Paraguay’s Senate today, and the region’s responses to the events there, throughout today and beyond.