On Friday, June 22, 2012 right-wing forces in a legislative coup overthrew the democratically elected center-left government of President Fernando Lugo.
The pretext for the coup was an incident a week earlier between landless peasants who had occupied a large-landholding and the police who were sent to breakup their encampment. The confrontation ended with the deaths of six police officers and 11 peasant farmers.
Seizing on this moment the right-wing dominated parliament of the country accused Lugo of “failing in his duty to maintain the social order” and called for a trial in which Lugo was given under 24 hours to prepare his defense and a mere two hours to defend himself. Acknowledging the illegitimacy of such a show-trial, Lugo chose not to attend—which resulted in 39-4 vote in parliament to impeach him and replace Lugo with his most vocal critic and head of the opposition, the Vice President Federico Franco.
Fernando Lugo, a former bishop inspired by liberation theology and popularly known as the “Bishop of the Poor” was elected in 2008 on a campaign of agrarian reform, wealth redistribution through taxation on the lucrative agro-business sector, and anti-corruption. His election broke the 61 years in power of the reigning conservative Colorado Party and gave hope to millions of marginalized peasants and urban poor in South America’s second poorest and most unequal country. The reaction to Lugo’s election by right-wing forces was immediate as every attempt to implement any part of his program was blocked by parliament.
The result of the political gridlock was a let down for Lugo’s followers who, fueled by the success regional peasant-movements in other Pink-tide countries, began to implement their own form of land distribution which threatened the ruling class who had enjoyed 61 years of government support in maintaining their monopoly on land.
The reason why the peasant land seizures provoked such an immediate and violent response is because of the lucrative agri-business sector, which has grown continuously in the last 61 years and made Paraguay the fourth largest producer of soy in the world. This was done through a process of driving peasants of their lands by the Stroessner dictatorship and continued through the dictatorship’s successor, the Colorado Party.