Photo: President Fernando Lugo
Cabinet ministers from eight South American countries were in this capital on Friday to stand with President Fernando Lugo as his impeachment trial got under way in the Paraguayan Senate.
The opposition-dominated lower house voted overwhelmingly Thursday to impeach Lugo for misfeasance over the events of June 15, when seven police and nine squatters were killed in a clash in the northeastern province of Canindeyu.
The president designated Attorney General Enrique Garcia as his defense counsel in the Senate trial.
Garcia reminded the senators that Lugo has already filed a motion with the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the impeachment, and he complained of having had less than 18 hours to review the accusations against the head of state.
Under the procedure laid down by the Senate, lawmakers are to deliver their verdict on Lugo - which is not subject to appeal - at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
If found guilty, the president would be ousted immediately and replaced by Vice President Federico Franco until the next general election, now scheduled for April 2013.
Lugo met at the presidential palace Friday with Cabinet ministers from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela and with the secretary-general of the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, Venezuela’s Ali Rodriguez.
Paraguay currently holds the rotating presidency of Unasur, whose member-states decided Thursday to dispatch officials to Asuncion to show solidarity with Lugo.
The head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, acknowledged Friday that Paraguay’s constitution allows for impeachment, yet he raised concerns about the compressed timetable.
“The question is if the minimum conditions are in place to have a legitimate defense in the face of the speed of the process,” Insulza said during a special session of the OAS council in Washington.
Lugo, a former Catholic bishop, was elected in 2008 at the head of a broad-based coalition in favor of reform in the poor, landlocked South American nation.
His victory marked the end of 60 years of rule by the Colorado Party, including the 1954-1989 dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner.
Hopes for significant change under Lugo have gone largely unfilled, due in part to his personal problem.
After finding himself forced to acknowledge fathering children during his years in the church, Lugo endured a months-long battle with cancer.
Another source of frustration has been obstruction and sabotage by Paraguay’s entrenched political establishment.