By a vote of 76-1, the lower house of Paraguay’s Congress impeached President Fernando Lugo this morning for his role in a deadly clash last week between the police and squatters. The Senate is in session right now holding the political trial and Lugo is expected to testify tomorrow in his defense. However, since the upper house of Congress is controlled by the opposition, it’s very likely that a required two-third majority will vote to remove Lugo from office.
This impeachment process is in accordance with article 225 of the Paraguayan constitution, which states that high ranking government officials such as the president can be impeached for “poor performance of his duties.” As we can see, the constitution is very vague in stipulating the reasons why an official can be removed from office, so it is up to two-third majorities in both houses of Congress to decide.
Removing Fernando Lugo from office could be a premature decision, or an example of bad politics in a country where politicians excel in doing wrong. I won’t discuss those details here. However, it is a perfectly legal and constitutional move.
This is why it is unacceptable that Unasur, a union of twelve South American governments, is threatening to treat Lugo’s possible removal from office as a coup. The secretary general of Unasur has even said that neighboring countries would have the power to invoke the Ushuaia II treaty, which contemplates sanctions against a country where “the democratic order has been breached.” Sanctions include shutting down the borders (a particularly significant threat to a landlocked country such as Paraguay), and suspending communications, trade and energy supplies. It is important to note that Paraguay gets 95% of its energy from the Itaipú and Yasyreta hydroelectric dams that it shares with Brazil and Argentina, respectively. Thus, it is highly vulnerable to a shutdown.
Unasur should back off from interfering in the impeachment process against Fernando Lugo. And the U.S. should unequivocally call for respect for Paraguay’s constitutional order.