Paraguayan lawmakers have impeached Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo over his handling of a deadly land dispute, prompting an angry din across Latin America and refusals to recognize his successor.
In a 39-to-4 vote on Friday, Paraguayan senators found Lugo, a 61-year-old former Catholic priest with a string of outstanding paternity cases, guilty of performing his duties badly during a land dispute last week that left 17 people dead.
An hour later, to cheers inside the Paraguayan Congress and angry clashes outside, 49-year-old former Paraguayan vice president Federico Franco was sworn in as the new leader of one of Latin America’s poorest nations.
“The process took place in a manner that was a little bit quick and it took me and all Paraguayans by surprise,” Franco said, hours after taking the oath of office and as he set about swearing in new ministers.
Police, some on horseback, had used tear gas and water cannons to beat back crowds of thousands outside Congress chanting: “Lugo, president,” and tearing down fences.
Lugo — who rose to power in 2008 as a champion of the poor, ending more than six decades of rule by the right-wing Colorado Party — called for calm in a brief speech before leaving the presidential palace.
“I submit to the decision of Congress,” Lugo said, adding that “the history of Paraguay and its democracy have been deeply wounded.”
“Today I retire as president, but not as a Paraguayan citizen,” he said. “May the blood of the just not be spilled.”
Holed up in the palace earlier while events in the Senate took their course, he said the lawmakers’ action was “more than a coup d’etat — it’s a parliamentary coup dressed up as a legal procedure.”
A torrent of furious responses poured in from across the region, not just from traditional leftist allies like Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but also from centrist and right-wing governments in Argentina and Chile.
“Without any doubt there has been a coup d’etat in Paraguay. It is unacceptable,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said.
She added that the issue would be discussed next week at a summit of the South American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
“In the name of the Venezuelan people and as head of state, Venezuela does not recognize this worthless, illegal and illegitimate government that has been installed in Asuncion,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said, in words echoed by Bolivian and Nicaraguan leaders.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala called the move a “setback to the democratic process in the region.”
Even in Santiago, where Sebastian Pinera is Chile’s first right-wing president since the late dictator Augusto Pinochet left office, there was disbelief.
The impeachment “did not fulfill the minimum requirements for this type of procedure,” Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said on national TV.