Paraguay president faces impeachmentAgence France-Presse
ASUNCION—Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo’s job is on the line after the opposition-controlled House of Representatives voted Thursday to impeach him for his role in deadly clashes to evict landless farmers.
Shortly after the vote, Lugo delivered a televised address to the nation in which he dismissed resignation rumors and vowed to face an impeachment trial with “all its consequences.”
The surprise move criticizing Lugo’s “poor performance of his duties” was approved by 76 votes in the lower house, after the Liberal Party withdrew support for the leftist president. Only one lawmaker voted against it.
All eyes are now on the Senate, where only five of 45 senators support Lugo. An eventual trial would be held there if approved, though no date has yet been set for a vote in the upper house.
In a sign of how seriously the region was taking events in Asuncion, South American nations attending the Rio+20 summit said they were immediately dispatching a ministerial mission to Paraguay.
“The presidents of UNASUR agreed to send a mission of foreign ministers which will leave at 7:00 pm (2200 GMT) from Rio,” Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said, referring to the regional bloc.
A violent confrontation on Friday left at least six police officers and 11 peasant farmers dead when Lugo’s security forces tried to remove squatters from a privately-held farm in the country’s northeast.
The poor farmers claim the huge estate was acquired by political influence decades ago.
Lugo, once known as the “bishop of the poor,” fought back at what he is portraying as a political show trial orchestrated by his enemies.
“I refuse to renounce my functions and vow to abide by the political process with all its consequences,” he said. The people’s will is “under relentless attack by groups that are always opposed to change.”
Lugo accused his opponents of trying to “rob the people of their supreme decision” when they elected him to a five-year term in 2008, ending six decades of rule by the right-wing Colorado Party.
The Senate immediately called a plenary session to lay out the impeachment proceedings, in which senators will act as judges.
“We are going to set the deadlines so that the president can learn of the charges and defend himself,” Senate president Jorge Oviedo Matto told reporters.
Attorney General Enrique Garcia, who will defend the president during the impeachment proceedings, said the trial could last “several days,” depending on the schedule set. “We will defend ourselves,” he said.
If Lugo is booted from power, Vice President Federico Franco would take the helm of one of South America’s poorest countries. He leads the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, part of Lugo’s ruling coalition that took over after the 2008 elections.
In an attempt to defuse the crisis, Lugo announced on Wednesday the formation of a special group of “civilian notables” to investigate the killings.
The landlocked South American nation relies heavily on agriculture, and is one of the world’s leading soy producers. Territorial disputes are not uncommon with two percent of the people owning 80 percent of the land.
Most of those living in rural areas earn their livelihoods by subsistence farming, but the economy has grown with the rising price of commodities.
The next presidential elections are slated for April 23, and Lugo’s presidential term officially ends on August 15, 2013.
Lugo, who was recently treated for lymphatic cancer, has said he will not seek another term.