24 June 2012

Paraguayan Politics

Here is the story of the current political situation in Paraguay. I have compiled my own research and conversations with staff from the school to try and give a comprehensive picture. On Friday, June 22nd the Paraguayan Congress impeached the country’s president, Fernando Lugo who was elected in 2008. Lugo was part of the movement in Latin America toward left-leaning presidents and is seen as a strong advocate for social programs and especially the rural poor. He was unable to enact many of the policies he promised, however, because of a Congressional majority by the opposition party, Colorado.

History: Lugo was the FIRST president not from the dictatorial party, Colorado. The Colorado Party ruled as dictators for thirty years, ending in 1989, and then their party’s candidates were elected up until Lugo in 2008. The Colorado party still has a significant portion of Congressional seats. Lugo ran as part of a coalition government with the support of the Liberal Party, Colorado’s main rival. Lugo’s vice president was from the Liberal Party.

There was a land dispute here last Monday where campesinos occupied a large soy plantation, claiming that the land was illegally seized during the country’s thirty-year dictatorship (that only ended in 1989). Unarmed police negotiators were sent in to try and convince them to leave, and instead the campesinos fired on them, killing six. This was surprising because in the history of campesino land takeovers in Paraguay, very few (if any) have ever become violent. The military was then sent in and 11 campesinos were killed.

Impeachment: On Thursday the Colorado representatives in Congress declared that Lugo had mishandled the land dispute – favoring the campesinos too much and unnecessarily risking the police officers. They proposed an impeachment trial for Friday and in a surprising move, the Liberal Party (that up until this point supported Lugo) agreed that an impeachment trial should be held Friday. This gave Lugo less than 24 hours to organize his defense. Eleven country representatives from the Latin American organization MERCOSUR declared that impeaching Lugo would be an infringement on democracy and Paraguay would possibly face sanctions if this happened.  On Friday, Congress voted 39-4 to impeach Lugo and the Liberal Party vice president was inaugurated within two hours. Campesinos and Lugo supporters bussed in from all over the country to the capital of Asunción to protest what many of them are calling a ‘Parliamentary Dictatorship’ that has ignored the votes of the Paraguayan people. Presidential elections are scheduled for April 2013, which would have been the end of Lugo’s term.

The staff members at my school that I talked with were upset about the impeachment. They supported Lugo and felt their votes in the past election were being thrown out the window in a decision that was hastily made in two days. The situation is larger than just the land takeover (such as historical political tensions) and that was the only thing focused on during the trial.
A very interesting time to be in Paraguay! 

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