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Paraguay isolated over president's ouster

The trade group Mercosur suspended Paraguay's membership after Fernando Lugo was impeached last week, though it stopped short of sanctions. Paraguay's absence has paved the way for Venezuela to be admitted.

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Lugo, a former priest and Paraguay’s first leftist leader who came to power in 2008, was removed from office last Friday within 24 hours after an impeachment trial was brought against him. The opposition-led Chamber of Deputies and Senate overwhelmingly approved the nine charges for his “poor performance of duties” as president.

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The catalyst for the impeachment, attempted on previous occasions, was the standoff between police and landless peasants in Curuguaty, eastern Paraguay, two weeks ago that left 17 people dead – both peasants and police. Lugo, who maintains close links to the landless movement, was accused of inciting the protesters.

While Lugo's election was widely hailed across Paraguay, as it broke 61 years of rule by the Colorado Party, more than 30 of them under the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship, he lost support among most sectors. Critics accused him of being passive and ineffectual as a leader.

His administration was also marred by personal drama, including a scandal involving children he fathered as a clergyman.

Lugo’s power base was always weak, forming a coalition with around 20 different parties, including the right-leaning Liberals, meaning he was never able to push through the reforms he wanted.

The toppled president was constantly at odds with Federico Franco, his Liberal vice president, who has since assumed the presidency. Earlier in the week, the new head of state said Mr. Franco would refuse to acknowledge Mercosur and Unasur’s findings.

For many commentators, events in Paraguay echo the coup in Honduras in 2009 when regional bodies such as the Organization of American States (OAS) failed to react effectively.

For Mr. Boron, Honduras didn’t have the institutions capable of facing up to the crisis there. “Honduras is in Central America and not a member of Mercosur or Unsaur,” he says. “There was no mechanism or body there able to impose [political] sanctions. It’s interesting to note that the US immediately recognized the new government in Honduras, but so far, there has been no official recognition of Federico Franco’s government.”

Editor's note: the original story misstated the first name of Fernando Lugo.

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