Ousted Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo denounced his impeachment and removal from office at the hands of his country’s Congress, calling it a “parliamentary coup” that was unfounded. Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, was removed from the presidency by parliamentary vote on June 22, having been accused of fomenting social disorder and encouraging his supporters to occupy private property. Once known as the “red bishop” because of his denunciations of corruption and economic injustice, Lugo called on his supporters to remain peaceful despite their repudiation of the impeachment process. He suggested that both national clamor and pressure from foreign countries may be able to reverse his removal from office. “In politics, anything is possible,” warned Lugo in a television interview on June 23.
Lugo’s followers in Paraguay widely believe that he was ejected from office because of his efforts to bring about land reform and other schemes to rectify the socio-economic imbalance in one of the poorest countries in the Americas. "In politics, anything is possible," Lugo said.
The bearded 61-year-old had vowed to improve the quality of life for the majority of his countrymen: many of whom are low-income peasant subsistence farmers. These campesinos had applauded his efforts to pass land redistribution measures through Congress. Lugo’s efforts fell afoul of the large latifundio estates of cattlemen and soybean farmers, whose mechanized factory farms are the staple of the national economy. Due to demand in Asia, especially China, for cattle raised on soybeans, the production of soybeans in South America has grown exponentially. Paraguay is now one of the top producers of soybeans in the world. Burgeoning soybean farms were established on subsistence farmers’ land, or virgin land, and thus supplanted some of the poorest people in one of the poorest countries in the Americas.
Lugo’s supporters thronged to Asuncion, the nation’s capital, to repudiate their champion’s removal from office. Violence following the impeachment, fortunately, has been minimal. Even so, the fatalities at the Curuguaty occupiers’ encampment weighs heavily on the entire country.
There are diplomatic implications for Paraguay, as well. For example, neighboring Argentina withdrew its ambassador on June 23, having come to the conclusion that there had been a “rupture of the democratic order,” in the small land-locked country. Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called referred to Lugo’s removal as a coup d’etat, while warning that MERCOSUR – the South American trading bloc – may take measures against Paraguay. Theoretically, this could mean suspension from the bloc, which includes Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The entire latter group of countries is currently led by leftist governments.
Brazil has also called its ambassador home from Paraguay. The South American giant condemned Lugo’s dismissal and alleged that he had not been able to defend himself effectively, thus "compromising a fundamental pillar of democracy." Brazil has the greatest specific weight on the South American continent since it is the largest economy of any Latin American country and because it is Paraguay’s lead trading partner. However, it is probable that Brazil will seek to ameliorate relations with Paraguay within the structure of UNASUR, another grouping of South American countries. Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay share the costs, administration, and profits of the huge hydroelectric dam at Itaipu along the Paraná river. It is thus that compromise is likely.
The newly seated president of Paraguay appears confident that he will gain the respect of Argentina. President Franco said that former President Lugo "recognized he faced a tribunal, he recognized the tribunal's verdict and finally he agreed to step down. Even more importantly, he asked for people to remain peaceful so no more blood would be shed." Franco said. "At no time was there a rupture or a coup, there was simply a change of leadership in line with the constitution and the country's laws."