June 22, 2012
Volatile Situation in Paraguay
So it's getting a little crazy here! Soccer in Paraguay has been canceled this weekend--THAT big! Don't expect my rundown to be as accurate as, say, some news site, but here's my best guess at what's going on down here in the land of protests and coups and fresh democracy, complete with links (click the colored, underlined words) if you want more info.
You know, Paraguay has a pretty wild political history, and the effects of the many, many years under some pretty scary dictators are far-reaching. After the overthrow of the last one in 1989, Paraguay has been considered a democracy, but she's still a toddler trying to get her feet under her and walk without stumbling.
When we first got here in 2008, the current President Lugo was coming into office. You may recognize his name because he's making world news pretty regularly, with a cancer scare in 2010 and then again every time a different woman surfaces insisting he fathered her child while he was a priest. (He's admitted to two.) There's a general frustration every time a new paternity claim surfaces, because religion is taken pretty seriously here. But there's also a good bit of cackling and crude jokes about it because, well, this is a highly chauvinistic country where men typically have gals on the side. Despite that, folks were hopeful of what this Catholic "priest of the poor" who left his church office in order to run for president, could do to bridge the huge expanse between the very rich and the desperately destitute.
Tensions have been high for many years concerning land rights. I still don't understand this fully, but here's my take. Many people claim their land was taken from them unfairly and handed over to politicians, or to friends and family of the Ruler of the Day. Lugo's big campaign promise was to get the land back in the hands of the people--a promise he's not been able to keep. His supporters swear he's trying, but that he doesn't have any backing in government, and he can't do it alone. Who knows, but since we've been here, I can testify to the sin-techos (homeless, literally "without a roof") protesting the situation by squatting--camping out in tents in public plazas, on the side of the road, on large farms or uninhabited lots. Usually this is fairly peaceful, albeit unsanitary and unsafe.
This past week, a clash between some campesinos (rural folks) ended violently, as a total of 17 police and campesinos were killed when police arrived to eject them from the property of a private landowner who happens to be a presidential candidate opposing Lugo. There are tons of rumors and opinions about how and why this went down the way it did, whether it was a planned part of what's now happening, who fired first, if the campesinos were trained by the militia group (the EPP)--and they all sound like something out of a movie. Wow. This stuff REALLY happens.
Let me break from the land-rights issues to add a little more fuel to the embers of unrest. There is an overwhelming feeling here of "us and them" when it comes to politicians. The line between the common man and his government representative is not only visible in the horse cart vs. BMW and hut vs. mansion, but this is a land where connections make or break you, and, well, let's just say justice has a price tag. The people make jokes about the roads that are paved on maps but actually still dirt, and say that the local politician is carrying that asphalt around in his pocket, or that the head of the dilapidated school is driving around in that school's new roof. So a few weeks ago, the whole country was in an uproar against the senators because it came out that another LARGE sum of money designated for the betterment of the country, never quite made it that far. The word I've heard more than any concerning this has been ladrones (thieves), in reference to the elected officials in the Senate. Here are some pictures of the protests that followed.
Fast forward to today, when tensions are still high from last week's campesino/police massacre. Lugo's party, the Liberals, sided with the opposition and the Senate voted 76-1 to impeach President Lugo. Within an hour or so, he responded with a speech that he would not resign, but would await due process and go through the impeachment. By this evening, the Senators presented 5 arguments against Lugo, which he will contest tomorrow. Yep, that quick. Despite the cold and the rain, people began to file into downtown Asuncion for more protests. President Lugo was escorted out by helicopter.
Four heads of departments resigned, and combined with the two who resigned after the massacre, that means Paraguay is now without some key figures, including the Ministers of Education, of Agriculture, of Industry, of the Interior, and the Chief of Police. The news stations were announcing all the private school closings but had to add that they were unsure if public schools would remain open, since there was no one in the position to make that decision presently. As you can imagine, it's all a bit unstable right now.
|http://www.ultimahora.com TRANSLATION: "LUGO, the people are with you."|
The plaza was full when I last saw a broadcast, and there were constant announcements of buses being sent out to and arriving from all parts of the country. The area near the recent massacre reported to have sent 570 people to the capital tonight. Police are controlling who comes into the city, stating that they won't interfere with the right to protest, but they are checking everyone traveling to assure that weapons of violence don't enter. Needless to say, we have decided against my physical therapy appointment and Caroline's dentist appointment tomorrow, since both are pretty near the drama. Think we'll just stay put and watch the news on tv. We're particularly interested in the reports that the Union of South American Nations has condemned the actions of the Senate, affirmed that they will not recognize the successor, and threatened to close the borders of Paraguay. Yeesh!
But we are safe, we are praying for a peaceful end, and we are advising our friends to keep their distance from the protests, as the Embassy has warned us to do. The potential for escalating into violence is really, really high here, so we'll avoid the crowds. As always, we try to stay out of politics and deal in the spiritual needs of the people. For that reason, I'll again add this disclaimer that you might not want to quote me on any of this. I'm just telling you what I've seen, and I admit that this whole thing is confusing to me, but I do recognize instability and a volatile situation that could get ugly in a heartbeat. Your prayers are appreciated for this country we presently call home and have really come to love.