ASUNCIÓN – Paraguayan democracy has taken a giant step backward since its Congress impeached President Fernando Lugo in June, plunging the country into political turmoil and diplomatic isolation. Coming only nine months before the next scheduled presidential election, this crisis erupted from political party elites’ short-sighted and brutish competition for public resources, not to mention their disdain for democracy.
Although the impeachment played out according to the constitution, there was little semblance of due process, and international observers have described the move as a “parliamentary coup.” The proceedings lasted a total of 30 hours from the time the lower house officially announced its charges to the inauguration of Lugo’s successor, former Vice President Federico Franco. Lugo’s defense occupied less than two hours of a five-hour trial in the Senate.
Lugo’s downfall was precipitated by the collapse of his legislative majority in the political fallout over a land conflict in the eastern district of Curuguaty. On June 15, an attempt to evict farmers from a disputed piece of land turned violent, resulting in the death of 11 peasants and six policemen.
It remains unclear who is to blame for the violence, but, after his interior minister came under fire, Lugo named a replacement from the opposition Colorado Party. In response, Lugo’s largest bloc of legislative support, the Liberal Party, turned against the government and joined the opposition’s impeachment proceedings.