Ousted Paraguay leader accuses lawmakers of ‘coup’
Paraguay’s ousted leader Fernando Lugo on Sunday accused lawmakers of carrying out a “parliamentary coup d’etat” to force him from power, as international protests mounted over his abrupt removal.
In his first public appearance since his impeachment on Friday over a deadly land dispute earlier this month, Lugo again blasted Congress for its snap decision but said he would nevertheless accept it in the name of peace.
“Lugo has not been dismissed; democracy has been dismissed. They have not respected the popular will,” the ousted leader said in an unexpected appearance at a street protest attended by about 500 people in the capital Asuncion.
He called his impeachment “unjust” and called for “peaceful” demonstrations in the impoverished, landlocked South American nation.
“There was a parliamentary coup d’etat… the arguments for impeachment had no value,” the 61-year-old former leader said after entering the studio of TV Publica, scene of the protest, for a brief news conference.
In a 39-4 vote, lawmakers on Friday found Lugo guilty of performing his duties badly during the armed clash on June 15 that claimed the lives of six police and 11 squatters on a privately-held farm.
His vice president Federico Franco was quickly sworn in to cheers in the Congress as Paraguay’s new leader.
Lugo acknowledged that it would be “very difficult” to return in power, but said there should be no more violence, adding: “Peacefully, the democratic process will continue, with more strength.”
Franco on Saturday told AFP in an interview in his office that he hoped Lugo would help him stem the international outcry over the change in power.
“Right now I’m trying to speak with president Lugo. I’m going to do it. I think his presence as a Paraguayan is very important to give an international image, because right now we need a legally constituted government,” he said.
Franco said he planned to ask Lugo “to help us prevent Paraguay from receiving an absolutely unjust, unnecessary and unpopular punishment.”
No foreign government has recognized Paraguay’s new leadership.
Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay — Paraguay’s partners in the Mercosur trading bloc — recalled their ambassadors for consultations.
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, called the snap impeachment a “disrespect to due process.”
Insulza said the Americas had once again witnessed “a summary judgment that, while formally in keeping with the law, did not appear to fulfill all the legal precepts of the right to a legitimate defense.”
Franco, who served as Lugo’s vice president, earlier defended the ouster of his predecessor as being in compliance with the country’s constitution, and he insisted “there was no coup.”
“There are no soldiers in the street,” he added.
But he acknowledged he was concerned about the international reaction.
“We will make our best efforts to get in touch with neighboring countries to try to demonstrate our clear commitment to democracy,” he said.
Franco met earlier with the Vatican’s envoy Agustin Arietti, and with the German ambassador Dirk Niebel, who said Berlin viewed the ouster as “a normal change of government, not by means of elections, but a normal process.”
Lugo’s lawyers had just two hours to present their case on his behalf in the Senate impeachment trial.
The torrent of furious responses to the ouster came not just from traditional leftist allies like Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner took to her Twitter account to repeat that “Argentina will not validate the coup in Paraguay.”
“It’s a travesty of justice and an affront to the rule of law to remove a president in 24 hours, with no guarantees to defend himself,” the executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Santiago Canton, told a press conference.
The first major international event the new government had been expected to attend is a Mercosur summit in Argentina on Thursday and Friday.
But Franco told AFP he would not go if his presence would make matters worse.
Peru said it had offered to host a presidential summit of Mercosur leaders next week to assess the situation in Paraguay.
Brazil said members of Mercosur and Unasur, another regional bloc, were considering what measures should be applied to Paraguay in light of the developments.
Franco noted that any blockade of Paraguay would hurt Brazilian entrepreneurs, who have major interests in the country. Sixty percent of Paraguay’s trade is with Brazil.
Extremely popular at the time of his election in 2008, Lugo — a former priest — saw his reputation in this predominantly Catholic country take a nosedive by repeated claims he fathered children while under a vow of chastity.