Paraguay's Ousted President Desires Return

Jun 26, 2012
Originally published on June 26, 2012 4:06 pm
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In Paraguay, another presidential contest. Fernando Lugo was impeached last week in a rapid trial. Some have called it a parliamentary coup. Lugo's initial reaction was one of acceptance. But now he wants back in, and he's gaining some outside support. For more, we turn to Simon Romero of The New York Times. He's covering the story, and we reached him in Rio de Janeiro. Welcome, Simon.

SIMON ROMERO: It's good to be here.

CORNISH: Initially, former President Lugo was - he accepted the result of the parliament, and then he changed his mind. What happened there?

ROMERO: Well, it was a surprising acceptance, especially after the way in which the trial was held just in the span of a few hours in the capital. Senators convened a meeting and read accusations, put him on trial, did not give him more time to mount his defense and then ousted him from power. He initially accepted that verdict, but a few days later, he said he was reversing his position and said that he would try to build a popular movement aimed at returning him to the presidency. He considers the results of that trial illegitimate and affront to democracy in Paraguay.

CORNISH: I've read that some countries in the region have withdrawn their ambassadors. Can you talk about what the reaction has been politically?

ROMERO: That's right. The reaction has been almost uniformly critical of Paraguay's move to oust Lugo, led by Brazil but also you have countries like Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, all of them withdrawing their ambassadors for consultations, criticizing the move, calling it a parliamentary coup, a constitutional coup. Some have even called it a gol-peachment(ph), which combines the words in Portuguese for coup and impeachment.

CORNISH: Simon, help me understand the politics here. Why countries in the region are backing Lugo versus the parliamentary government?

ROMERO: They've signed a pact with one another in South America to prevent such ousters from taking place, and they're extremely sensitive to anything approaching a coup, especially in a region that's had a long history of dictatorships. They're saying that they're aiming to protect democracy in Paraguay. At the same time, though, you have Paraguay's new leaders, both in the legislature and now in the executive branch, of course, saying exactly the opposite, that that what they're doing obeys the letter of the law of the constitution in Paraguay.

CORNISH: I want to take a step back here. I mean, what was the official reason Paraguay's parliament voted to impeach him, and what's the reason people believe - or at least give us a sense of the broader context behind his ouster.

ROMERO: Well, there are various reasons foremost amongst them was the violent clash this month between police and squatters that left 17 people dead in a remote region of Paraguay. That clash really spoke to the inability by Lugo to resolve festering inequalities in Paraguay, especially when it comes to landholdings. Paraguay is one of the most unequal societies on Earth when it comes to distribution of wealth, distribution of income and distribution of land. Lugo was elected back in 2008 with very high expectations to try to resolve some of these problems.

He was not able to do it. And in the end, it was one of these clashes that actually seems to have undid him or at least there was the pretext for removing him from office.

CORNISH: How have voters reacted to this, and is there any chance that Lugo will take back the presidency?

ROMERO: It's just not clear right now. Lugo does have a base of support. He does say that he's going to mount some sort of popular movement aimed at returning him to office. The situation in Paraguay does seem to be relatively calm, but at the same time, Lugo is just getting started, of course. He says that the resistance is just beginning.

CORNISH: Simon Romero is covering the ouster of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo for The New York Times. Simon, thank you.

ROMERO: Audie, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.