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  • Former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo

    Former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo | Photo: EFE

The progressive leader received support from the same political opponents who ousted him from power in 2012.

Paraguayan senator and former president, Fernando Lugo, was elected head of Congress in the South American country, just days before the five-year anniversary of the parliamentary coup that removed him from office.

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In a confrontational session, the legislative branch chose Lugo, who was elected senator in 2013, to lead the Congress for the period from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, with 24 votes in favor, one abstention, and 20 absences.

The session took place without the members of the opposition parties, including the ruling Colorado Party of President Horacio Cartes and former 35-year dictator Alfredo Stroessner. 

Paradoxically, the same senators who voted to oust Lugo in 2012 were also the ones who elected him as head of Congress in what political analysts call a strategy to reach political stability. The country saw a spate of political turbulence earlier this year when Cartes' Colorado Party, in an unusual alliance with Lugo's Guasu Front coalition, sought to pass an amendment to eliminate the single-term limit on presidential terms to allow for re-election.

Protesters aligned with the Liberal Party, which historically traded power with the ruling Colorado Party prior to the 1940s, set fire to Congress on March 31 after the Senate secretly voted in favor of the amendment, and clashes between protesters and police left one person dead. 

Lugo's election as president in 2008 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 in what has been called the Pink Tide. The politician is an adherent of liberation theology and was a former Catholic bishop who ran for president with the Guasu Front.

On June 22, 2012, former President Lugo was impeached by the country's Congress, holding him responsible for the Curuguaty massacre days before.

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The impeachment was widely condemned internationally as a parliamentary coup, orchestrated by manipulating the Curuguaty massacre as a pretext for his ouster.

On June 15, 2012, 300 heavily-armed police officers stormed into Marina Kue in the Curuguaty district in an attempt to evict 70 rural farmworkers who had occupied the land. 

The conflict swiftly turned violent and resulted in the deaths of 17 people, 11 campesinos and six policemen, triggering public outrage and a political trial against then-President Lugo.

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.

Lugo's removal became a hallmark of the right-wing destabilization tactics and parliamentary maneuvers that conservative forces have increasingly usted to contest left-wing governments in the region, most recently exemplified with the impeachment process — similarly condemned as a parliamentary coup — that ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff last year. 

If the recent bid to allow for presidents to be elected for a second term had been successful, both Lugo and Cartes would have benefited and would have been able to put their names forward on the ballot in the next presidential race.

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