Impeachment of Paraguayan President Threatens Fledgling Democracy
Freedom House denounces the decision by Paraguay’s parliament to impeach President Fernando Lugo and calls for the restoration of Lugo’s presidency, allowing him to serve out the remainder of his term which was scheduled to end in April 2013.
After only a few hours of deliberation and without time for Mr. Lugo to prepare his defense, the Senate voted in favor of impeachment on charges of mishandling a recent land dispute between police and protesters in which 17 people were killed. Vice President Federico Franco was appointed president on June 22. Lugo, who would have been ineligible to run for reelection, initially accepted his ouster, but has since announced his intention to reclaim his office and has assembled a symbolic parallel Cabinet. The ousted president has been consistently hampered by an opposition parliament determined to curb his authority.
“Regardless of the legality of the parliament’s actions, this was clearly a political move and one that threatens to destabilize the country’s tenuous grasp on democracy,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “We welcome the swift response of Brazil and other regional democracies in condemning this undemocratic action and call on the parliament to restore Lugo to the presidency.” Kramer added that the impeachment of Lugo was especially disturbing in light of a recent series of anti-democratic policies adopted by leaders of a number of other South American countries.
Regional organizations were quick to denounce the impeachment. Paraguay has been suspended from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and Mercosur, a regional trading bloc, and numerous democratic heads of state have refused to acknowledge the new president and threatened sanctions, labeling the move a coup d’état.
Mr. Lugo was elected in a free and fair election in 2008, ending 61 years of rule by the Colorado Party, a vestige of Paraguay’s long period of dictatorship under Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. He was greeted with great optimism, but has since struggled to implement his agenda for democratic reforms, facing political resistance and widespread corruption, parts of the legacy left behind by long-standing authoritarianism.
Paraguay is rated Partly Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 and Freedom of the Press 2012 surveys
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