Foreign Policy Blogs

Colorado versus Lugo: On the Farm and In the Senate

Protestors for and against Paraguayan President Lugo. Photo Credit: Reuters/Jorge Adorno

I select the geographic spot for my posts based on a mixture of issues and variety. Paraguay tends to gain attention either through its soccer team or political upheaval. I looked at the Economist App on my iPhone, and Paraguay doesn’t even show up on the list of economic indicators by country. I’m guessing that conservative members of Paraguay’s Colorado Party, who threw leftist President Fernando Lugo out of office this week, like avoiding the spotlight. They will seek to portray the President’s impeachment as a move of the opposition against an inept leader. However, an hour of reading about the crisis on Saturday struck me as to the foundations. The impeachment and its preceding incidents symbolize the class politics of Paraguay’s lengthy dictatorship of 1954-1989.

First, a review of June’s events. This past Friday, Paraguay’s Senate removed Lugo from office, one day after the Chamber of Deputies did the same. The Senate’s impeachment trial lasted about five hours and gave Lugo no time to prepare legal defense required for such a grave occasion. Lugo’s successor is his former ally and Vice President, Federico Franco of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party. Franco’s Party allied with its traditional nemesis, the right-wing Colorado Party, to oust Lugo.

Now, a look at the roots of what many have called a political coup, or “the use of democratic institutions for anti-democratic means” according to Christopher Sabbatini, Senior Policy Director at the Council of the Americas. [1] Paraguay’s political fault lines boiled over on June 15 when a shootout between land squatters and police in the Northeast killed 17 people, including 6 police officers. The land in question belongs to Blas Riquelme, sometimes called “Paraguayan Carlos Slim.” Riquelme is a former Colorado Party Senator and had a close relationship with Alfredo Stroessner, the Colorado dictator who lorded over his country from 1954 to 1989. Paraguay is the world’s fourth largest soybean exporter, but the landed class faces resentment for receiving large parcels doled out by Stroessner as patronage. According to Hugo di Zazzo of Agence France Press, 2% of citizens own 80% of Paraguay’s fertile land, and farm laborers earn about $8 a day.[2]

Lugo ended six decades of Colorado Party rule when he took office in 2008 and called for redistribution of land to the poor (i.e., taking it away from wealthy Colorado supporters). The June 15 spat in Curuguaty, part of Canindeyú District 155 miles northeast of Asunción, epitomizes Lugo’s conflict with the Colorados. It also shows that Lugo has not been successful with a land distribution program. Lugo’s hand is weak due to Colorado Party influence in Congress, and due to personal scandal. The president is a former Catholic Bishop, and since coming to office, he has admitted to fathering two children out of wedlock (both while he was a Bishop). Accusations from other women still lay out there.

Implications of the crisis are not yet clear, but the backlash against impeachment has been significant. I can’t argue against this, given that the Paraguayan elite, consisting of the Colorados and Lugo’s ex-allies, have banded against him. Protests have been violent in Asunción and loud abroad. Other South American leaders have threatened to remove Paraguay from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), and Paraguay’s status in the Mercosur trade bloc is up in the air. I am curious as to how the US will react–it supported Stroessner, whose security forces were known for dismembering communist activists, and the US military cooperated with Lugo’s predecessor, Colorado President Nicanor Duarte Frutos. As for Mr. Franco, the de-facto President, he seems to have joined the Colorados to boost himself up the political chain. But now his actions are showing up on iPhone screens.





Hunt Kushner
Hunt Kushner

Hunt Kushner is a John C. Whitehead Fellow with the Foreign Policy Association. He currently works in Corporate Development with Ports America Group, the United States' leading port terminal company. Prior to this, he worked for 6 years at Deutsche Bank in the Corporate Finance and Mergers and Acquisitions for Latin America Group. In his 6 years at Deutsche Bank, Hunt worked on mergers and equity offerings for companies across Latin America in sectors such as energy, real estate, transportation, and banking. Hunt graduated from Yale University in 2006 with a BA in Political Science.

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