The ouster of Fernando Lugo from power in 2012 served as a template for the coup against Brazil President Dilma Rousseff.
1. Who Was Fernando Lugo?
Fernando Lugo served as president of Paraguay from 2008 until June 22, 2012, when his tenure was prematurely cut short in what most leaders in the region called a parliamentary coup.
Lugo's election broke the six-decade rule of the right-wing Colorado Party and was seen as part of the progressive wave of leaders elected through Latin America. An adherent of liberation theology, the former Catholic bishop arrived to the presidency thanks to his commitment to implement reforms in favor of the long-neglected poor in the country.
Lugo faced opposition from the powerful political establishment in Paraguay, who impeded his efforts at nearly every turn and conspired to secure his ouster from the outset of his presidency.
His opponents succeeded when they mounted a political show trial in the country's Congress.
2. A New Type of Coup
Paraguay's Supreme Court, seen in this file photo, endorsed the process that saw President Lugo ousted. | Photo: EFE
Having endured decades of dictatorship, Paraguayan elites knew that the country would likely not tolerate another military regime. Nonetheless, they could not tolerate a leftist in power, so they cooked up a new type of coup.
Barely a year into his term, Lugo was already facing threats of impeachment.
Using the Curuguaty massacre as a pretext, the political elite rushed to convene a political trial against the president. On June 21, 2012, the two establishment political parties, the Colorado Party of the Stroessner dictatorship and the right-wing Liberal Party launched impeachment proceedings against Lugo.
A day later, having been given only two hours to prepare his defense, the Paraguayan Senate, dominated by opponents, voted to impeach Lugo and remove him from office.
Lugo opted not to fight his ousting and was quickly replaced by his vice president, Federico Franco, a member of the Colorado Party who had earlier broken with the president.
Franco quickly restored the old way of doing things in Paraguay, reversing many of Lugo's policies. Horacio Cartes, also of the Colorado party, was subsequently elected president in elections held April, 2013.
3. New Face, Same Politics
Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes | Photo: Reuters
The election of Horacio Cartes in 2013 helped return Paraguay to the international community, which was suspended from important regional blocs like UNASUR after the coup. Cartes also served to return the country to same old way of doing politics, with elites running it as fiefdom at the expense of the poor majority.
From students to campesinos, Cartes has faced sizable protests in light of his neoliberal policies.
He also repositioned Paraguay as the dependable U.S. ally it was for decades before Lugo came to power. Cartes has assumed the mantle of U.S. client regime in the region, going further than some of his right-wing neighbors, such as Argentina's Mauricio Macri.
When Macri's efforts to damage Venezuela's reputation and have the country suspended from Mercosur, Cartes picked up where Macri left off.
In May, Cartes formally requested that the Mercosur trade bloc hold a meeting of the member countries' foreign ministers to discuss the ongoing political situation in Venezuela as the first step in having the country suspended.
4. No Justice for Campesinos
Activists protest outside Paraguay's Palace of Justice demand impartiality in the Curuguaty massacre case. | Photo: EFE
The manipulation of events surrounding the Curuguaty massacre was not enough for Paraguayan elites, they wanted to make the campesinos suffer.
Four years ago, 300 heavily-armed police officers stormed into Marina Kue in the Curuguaty district of Paraguay in an attempt to evict 70 rural farmworkers who had been occupying the land. The conflict swiftly turned violent and resulted in the deaths of 17 people, 11 campesinos and six policemen.
Despite evidence suggesting extrajudicial executions by police, Paraguay’s Public Prosecutor filed criminal charges against 12 landless campesinos on charges of premeditated homicide, invasion of property, and criminal association.
The prosecutor in that case, Jalil Rachid, was appointed vice minister of domestic security in Cartes' government.
No charges were filed against the police who were involved in the massacre.
5. First Paraguay, Then Brazil
U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde | Photo: Agencia Brasil
Despite the international outcry, the ouster of Lugo in Paraguay was viewed as a stunning success by U.S. and regional elites. The experience would serve as a prototype for future efforts to oust progressive leaders in the region.
Before being temporarily suspended from her post as president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff warned the country could face a “Paraguay-style” coup.
She would eventually be proven right when in May the Brazilian Senate voted to proceed with impeachment proceedings, forcing Rousseff to temporarily step down.
Like the trial convened against Lugo, the charges against Rousseff were widely seen as a pretext for her ouster.
The U.S.'s fingerprints were all over both ousters. In fact, U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde previously served as ambassador to Paraguay in the lead-up to the 2012 coup against Lugo.