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Paraguay's Congress Votes To Oust President

Paraguay's congress impeached President Fernando Lugo on Friday over his handling of a deadly land dispute.
Jose Cabezas
AFP/Getty Images
Paraguay's congress impeached President Fernando Lugo on Friday over his handling of a deadly land dispute.

Paraguay's congress voted to remove President Fernando Lugo. The impeachment proceeding was a lightening process in which with both chambers approved his destitution in a little more than 24 hours.

Paraguay's La Nacíon reports that Vice President Federico Franco will assume the presidency after Lugo was found guilty of "performing his duties badly."

La Nacíon from Argentina reports that the speed of the trial took many in Paraguay by surprise. Thousands of Lugo supporters and detractors streamed to Asuncíon, waiting for developments, the paper reports.

Lugo for his part will "appeal the constitutionality of the process." He might resort the Inter-American Court of Human Rights because he says he was only given two hours to mount a defense. The regular time table to start any legal proceedings, Lugo's lawyers told the paper, would be 18 days.

All of this, explains the AP, stems from "the inability of a leader elected on promises of helping the poor to find a balance with one-time allies who have increasingly disapprov of his leftist policies and strident, uncompromising style."

Those tensions were heightened last week, after police tried to evict landless farmers from a forest reserve near the border with Brazil. Seventeen people were killed in the clashes with police in that incident.

Update at 6:48 p.m. ET. A Bit Of Background:

Noticias Caracol has a good profile of Lugo. Here's Google's translation of it.

Essentially, the profile paints Lugo as "the bishop who ruled alone."

Lugo was a priest and then a bishop until 2006, when he began seeking public office. He was elected president in August of 2008, ending a 61-year rule of the "red" party in Paraguay. What followed, reports Caracol, was a "bitter" presidency in which the "red" party retook the legislature and Lugo found himself suffering from cancer and followed by paternity scandals.

Needless to say, the legislature turned against him and so did his vice president. Lawmakers pointed to the incident at the forest reserve as one of the reasons for his impeachment. Police, by the way, were trying to clear landless farmers from land owned by a "red" party leader. But the legislature also accused him of instigating the occupation of land by the poor.

Update at 6:30 p.m. ET. A Big Hit For Paraguay's Democracy:

Lugo has just delivered a speech to the nation, according to CNN en Español.

"Today, I say goodbye as president of the Republic, but I am not saying goodbye as a Paraguayan citizen and I will serve this country whereever it needs me," Lugo said.

"Today it's not Fernando Lugo who receives a big hit," he added. "It's the history of Paraguay, its democracy that has been profoundly hurt. All the principles of a defense have been violated and I hope that its violators know the gravity of what they've done."

Lugo also asked protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

Update at 6:20 p.m. ET. A Coup?

The secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) warned that the speed of the process might amount to "a coup d'etat." Plus Alí Rodríguez said in an interview with Venezuela's TeleSur, they were worried that this move could "unleash a process of violence."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.