Inside Story America

Paraguay: Impeachment or political coup?

The country’s president has been removed from office, accused of failing to maintain social harmony.

Fernando Lugo, the president of Paraguay, has vowed to fight on after being ousted in what he calls a parliamentary coup.

He was removed from office on Friday in a 39-4 vote by the opposition-controlled Senate which accused him of encouraging land seizures and failing to maintain social harmony in Paraguay.

It is clear that this was modelled after the Honduran coup in 2009; the same kind of rhetoric is being used and the same kind of powerful oligarchic figures are behind it …. It’s a very shady justification and one that shows that allowing the Honduran coup to stand has paved the way for other similar procedural coups.”

– Adrienne Pine, a Latin American specialist

Federico Franco, the vice-president of the Liberal Party, a former ally turned fierce critic of Lugo, has been sworn in as the country’s new president.

The impeachment motion accused Lugo of poor performance over a forced land eviction earlier this month. Seven police officers and at least nine landless peasant farmers were killed in a shootout. The farmers were part of a group occupying land owned by a politician from the right-wing Colorado Party who claimed the occupiers were armed and trained by leftist groups aided by Lugo.

Lugo, known as the ‘bishop of the poor’ after he abandoned the priesthood for politics, was elected in 2008, ending 61 years of rule by the Colorado Party. When he came to power he promised to end corruption and give land to some 87,000 landless families in a country where 80 per cent of land is owned by a tiny fraction of the population.

Lugo has set up an alternative government and vowed to send a representative to this week’s summit of the Mercosur trade bloc in Argentina. Lugo has also been boosted by an outcry among leaders across South America who have condemned his dismissal and suspended Paraguay from Mercosur for the summit.

My party and I voted … to give 72 more hours to prepare everything, and we lost. That is democracy. Otherwise it will be an anarchy… and the people who voted against giving more time argued that during the weekend he [Lugo] could have done it [prepared his case].

– Miguel Carrizosa Galiano, a Paraguayan senator

Mercosur, or the Common Market of the South, has Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay as members. Venezuela’s entry is pending ratification by Brazil and Paraguay.

Responding to his removal from office Lugo said: “This has been a legislative coup d’etat against the people’s will, which on April 20, 2008, elected Fernando Lugo as president of the Republic of Paraguay .… This is a fake government, the citizens don’t accept it. It’s a government that has altered the Republic’s institutionalism. There cannot be any collaboration with a government that hasn’t got any citizens’ legitimacy.”

But the new president says the Paraguayan Congress has acted legally. Franco said: “The situation is not easy. I recognise that there are inconveniences with the international community. I ratify and reaffirm that there was no coup here, there is no institutional breakdown. This was carried out in accordance with the constitution and the laws. It is a legal situation that the constitution and the laws of my country permit us to do in order to carry out changes when the situation calls for it. What was carried out was a political trial in accordance with the constitution and the laws.”

Inside Story Americas asks: Was Lugo’s removal justified, and what is next for Paraguay?

Joining presenter Anand Naidoo to discuss developments in Paraguay are guests: Michael Shifter, the president of Inter-American Dialogue, a US-based think tank; Senator Miguel Carrizosa Galiano, the head of the foreign relations committee of the Paraguayan Senate who voted for Lugo’s removal; and Adrienne Pine, a professor of anthropology at the American University and a Latin American specialist.

“There is an impeachment mechanism in the Paraguayan constitution, unlike in Honduras … but Lugo wasn’t given due process, he was really not given an opportunity to make his case and defend himself. You could argue whether it’s a coup or not but the fact is it was against the meaning of democracy.”

Michael Shifter, the president of Inter-American Dialogue


  • It is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with about 60 per cent of the population living in poverty. The country’s Colorado Party ruled for 60 years. The military dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner ended in 1989.
  • Fernando Lugo was a Roman Catholic priest before running for president in 2008. Lugo was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in August 2010. As president he refused to take a salary.
  • An estimated 95 per cent of Paraguayans are Mestizos – a mix of Spanish and Native American.
  • Paraguay has been a centre for smuggling and organised crime.