Lugo says Paraguay’s democracy is ‘broken’
ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Former President Fernando Lugo on Wednesday urged international organizations to recognize that his ouster constituted a democratic breakdown and said he expected events in Paraguay to echo what happened in Honduras following that country’s 2009 coup.
Lugo told The Associated Press in an interview that there should be some form of punishment against the new government, but said he didn’t want to see economic sanctions that would hurt ordinary Paraguayans.
“The democratic process in this country is broken,” said the 61-year-old former Catholic clergyman once dubbed “the bishop of the poor.” He added that he hoped “international organizations will have the maturity and the courage to say that there has been a break in the democratic process and that it merits a sanction.”
Lugo’s comment came ahead of a summit of the regional trade bloc Mercosur this Thursday and Friday in Argentina, and the expected arrival of an Organization of American States’ fact-finding missing this weekend to study his fast-track impeachment by lawmakers last week.
In Wednesday’s interview, Lugo said he believed that even if the Washington-based OAS takes strong action against the new government of former Vice President Federico Franco, who replaced him as president, it would not prove enough to land him back in office as it didn’t in the case of Honduras.
The OAS suspended Honduras as a member after a 2009 coup that saw President Manuel Zelaya spirited out of the country by the military after he defied a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum asking voters if Honduras should change its constitution. Opponents charged that Zelaya was trying to get around a constitutional provision limiting presidents to a single term. He denied that was he aim.
International sanctions and months of negotiations led by the OAS and the U.S. failed to persuade the interim government to restore Zelaya to power.
Honduras went ahead with November 2009 elections that had been scheduled before the coup and Porfirio Lobo was voted into office. The U.S. and other countries restored diplomatic relations shortly after Lobo took office in January 2010.
Zelaya was finally allowed to return to Honduras from exile in 2011 following an OAS-brokered deal — but not as president.
“I think that the Honduran itinerary will be repeated in Paraguay,” Lugo predicted on Wednesday.
The OAS delegation to Paraguay will look into the circumstances of Lugo’s destitution, which came after a five-hour-long trial that critics say allowed Lugo no opportunity to defend himself. The Senate found him guilty of “poor performance of his duties” over a deadly clash between police and landless peasants.
The new government has said the lightning-quick procedures were well within the law.
But not everyone is convinced. Seven Latin American countries have called their ambassadors home for consultations, and another group of Latin American countries presented a resolution seeking to suspend Paraguay from the OAS. However, it failed to win support from other nations.
Others of Paraguay’s neighbors, including Argentina and Brazil, have condemned the rapidity of Lugo’s dismissal and are expected to discuss possible sanctions against the country at the meeting of Mercosur, which also groups Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Many countries have called back their ambassadors permanently or for consultations.
Lugo spoke out against possible international sanctions against his country, saying they would hurt the ordinary people.
“They (Mercosur countries) are free to decide that they want but I think sanctions, economic sanctions will have repercussions and hurt the entire country,” he said. “I met with small farmers producing yucca, bananas or pineapple, and I would feel very bad for them if sanctions were declared.”
Lugo didn’t say what sanctions he thought should be applied to Paraguay’s new government.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Paraguay’s new leader said he’d welcome representatives from Mercosur and the OAS with open arms.
“They can come to Paraguay whenever they want to and they won’t find a single traumatized citizen,” Franco said at a news conference. “Life is normal.”
He added that despite the harsh positions some countries have taken against his government, “I have nothing against Argentina or Brazil because we have very good relations with those two regional giants.”
The United Nations on Wednesday added its voice to the chorus of concern over events in Paraguay.
The organization said in a statement that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had noted “the concern expressed by regional leaders regarding the impeachment process and its implications for democracy in the country.”
“The Secretary-General urges all concerned to work in the days ahead to ensure the peaceful resolution of differences,” the statement said.