About last night in Paraguay – and the days and years before…

April 1st, 2017

Guest posting by Magui López

The debate on the re-election in Paraguay has existed since the time of the adoption of article 229 of the constitution in 1992, which (summed up) said “the President of the Republic and the Vice-President (… ) may not be re-elected in any case”. In fact, the debate existed already when that article was approved. It can be said that after 35 years of the Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989) this was the legal clause to avoid the perpetuation of the same person in the executive branch. [A separate issue is that, although it prevents one person from sticking to the chair, it doesn’t avoid the rule of a party for more than 60 years, for example.]

This constitutional article now rules out Lugo (although he was dismissed a year before the end of its government), rules out Cartes (because it is the current president) and rules out everyone who has been in the seat before, the Presidential and the Vice Presidential.

There was no Paraguayan president who didn’t flirt with the idea of re-election, who didn’t make contradictory statements on the matter or who didn’t talk about it at some point.

The currently proposed amendment (that’s causing all the rage and fire) has been considered since last year, in various forms with different steps and legal procedures.

Basically what happened between March 28th and today, can be summarized as follows:

  • 1. The President of the Senate did not allow the entrance of the proposed constitutional amendment that both Cartistas, liberals and Luguistas carry forward – these factions, separated by the 2012 Parliamentary Coup, are now united by the promise of a 2017 re-election.
  • 2. The President of the Senate (which is of the Liberal Party) scheduled an extraordinary assembly for Thursday, March 30th. The Vice-President of the Senate (a re-electionist) ignored the call, proclaimed himself President and called in the extraordinary session for Tuesday, 28th. Senators who did not agree with this maneuver withdrew.
  • 3. The “Group of 25” -25 senators from different parties who seek to enable the amendment in order to achieve the presidential re-election- formed something referred to by media as a “parallel Senate”. [Another issue is what re-election is supposed to mean exactly: if it would be indefinite, only in a row, never in a row but with period of rotation in the middle, etc].
  • 4. The “parallel Senate” convened to modify the internal rules of the Senate, and changed the power of the President and, more importantly, the majority regulations for approving motions of order, treatments on tables.
  • 5. Thanks to the change on the internal regulation, the 25 Senators (of a total of 45 seats that Paraguayan Senate has) were able to give Parliamentary Treatment to the constitutional amendment.
  • 6. The group voted and approved the Constitutional Amendment and called Congressmen to vote on the project – it kept doing this on its own, in one of their offices.
  • 7. Congress set up a meeting for Saturday, April 1st.
  • 8. Anti-reelectionist members of the Liberal and Colorado as well as other parties mobilized for protests in front of the Congress for March 31st which were joined by many people independent of party structures.
  • 9. Protesters occupied the Congress that (perhaps strangely, given that it is not usually the case) had pretty little police protection. Once inside, they torched the place, demanding to abandon the project of re-election and stop the whole show.
  • 10. Police repression is unleashed fiercely and protests spread to other parts of the centre of Asunción as well as to other Paraguayan cities.
  • 11. The President of the Congress cancelled the meeting on April 1st, promising that it will also not be summoned on Sunday or Monday.
  • 12. Mobilization and repression continued to intensify. With the excuse of “apprehending those who initiated the riots and the fire”, the police entered the premises of the central branch of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (some of whose leaders were associated with the call for protests) and killed a 25 years old man who was the leader of the Liberal Youth of the city of La Colmena.
  • 13. The Commissioner in charge of the repression, despite being faced with surveillance videos showing cops shooting and beating, just shrugs and blames the Special Forces (“blue helmets”) not under his command.
  • The Constitution is often a territory of dispute and interpretation. That’s what happened in 2012, it is not surprising that it’s happening again now, and it’s not a monopoly of Paraguay. Laws are not indisputable truths, they are effected in contexts of power struggles, interpreted in contexts of power struggles, amended in contexts of power struggles – and those struggles often benefit one party over others, some groups and organizations over others, etc.

    It is important to note how support and alliances fluctuated and Lugo ended up smiling in a picture with Cartes while many of his followers justify the police repression because the protests was called for by some of those who carried out the coup against Lugo (but note that there are others who also executed the coup and are now with Lugo looking for re-election).

    The next thing is to understand that the constant scandals of fraud and corruption along with fundamental processes of marginalisation and political and economic exclusion have created a social climate which, combined with the proper “permission and rally call” of leaders to their supporters, may result in a burning Congress. [A different topic is that I don’t think it’s something so terrible to deliver a shock like this to the political elite in Paraguay].

    None of all this benefits the people, reduces poverty or modifies the power relations. On both sides of the current amendment conflict there are “progres”, “right wing”, “center-right” and “pseudo-leftist” people. I am with those who believe that the re-election will only make things worse since it has been shown in 2012 that it’s not the “popular mandate” what establishes and maintains a government, and it shows now that neither is it the law that delimits it.

    This section from the conclusions of my Ph. D. thesis still applies: “The effort to continue to accept that what Paraguay is transitioning into is a democracy has led both parties and leaders [Colorado and Liberal] as well as movements and intellectuals to force historical interpretations and to repeat and persistently deny institutional destabilization, violations of political rights and the electoral results, illegal interpretations of the Law, unconstitutional use of the Constitution, among others. I say, not only was a very reduced concept of democracy adopted, also, in order to insist on its enforcement, periodic ruptures of even the minimum requirements had to be downplayed”.

    (Spanish original version)

    Leave a Reply