Paraguay impeachment poses tough questions for Latin America

Por Vincent Bevins

Periodically, we have an international incident which forces the question of whether or not there really is a community of Latin American nations, and if so, what it can accomplish. The “lightning impeachment”, which removed Fernando Lugo from the presidency of Paraguay on Friday, is shaping up to be exactly that kind of defining moment.

Whether or not they liked Lugo, everyone in Latin America that is not a Paraguayan legislator seems to agree there was something fishy about the way they rushed through his trial, not allowing him time to prepare a defense.

Everyone has gotten together to criticize Paraguay and throw them out of both Mercosul and Unasul until there are new elections, and we will have emergency meetings later this week in Argentina. That is the gist of the short piece I wrote today for the Los Angeles Times

Go to: Paraguay faces fallout after president’s ouster at Los Angeles Times

But many questions remain, not least of which are what Mercosul wants, what they are prepared to do to get it, and whether or not Paraguay will respond.

And why did Paraguay do this in the first place? Why throw him out 9 months before his term was going to expire? And why not let him prepare and mount a lengthy defense? They could have just nodded off during proceedings and vote him out anyways. Why cause this huge incident to get rid of a lame-duck president in two days? It seems there is something I am not getting.

Collective efforts to deal with crises in Latin America have a mixed record recently. Two incidents stand out: the cross-border bombing raid Colombia carried out in Ecuador in 2008, and the 2009 coup in Honduras. In the former, a meeting of the region’s leaders managed to more or less successfully smooth things over. In the latter, opinion was divided on the proper response. Brazil allowed ousted president Zelaya to live in its embassy for months, without ever accomplishing anything except to be able to escape and watch elections take place in which the anti-coup forces did not take part. One can argue that country is still suffering from the consequences of the confused and contradictory response outside of Honduras.

I visited Honduras in the wake of that crisis and it was not pretty (link to Guardian comment piece). Word is things have gotten much worse.

What will Paraguay look like in five years? Will all of this ‘parliamentary coup’ business be sorted out this week, or could it lead to crisis and conflict? A lot of that may be decided at the Mercosul meeting on Thursday and Friday.