The 2008 election of Lugo, a 61-year-old former Roman Catholic bishop, was a landmark event in Paraguay, the first time the entrenched Colorado party had lost an election in 61 years and where a military dictator, Alfredo Stroessner, ruled from 1954 to 1989.
Lugo, dubbed the "bishop of the poor", was elected in large part on his promises to carry out land reform in a landlocked country of 6 million people that has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the world. But he never had support in Congress, and his approval rating fell steadily while he was in office, according to the Chilean polling firm Latinobarometro, from 84 percent in 2008 to 50 percent last year. Paraguayans’ confidence in government fell even more, from 84 percent in 2008 to just 37 percent last year.
But the handwriting had been on the wall for some time that Lugo could be forced from office if the circumstances were right. A U.S. diplomatic cable written in March 2009 and made public last year by WikiLeaks predicted much of what has happened in the past week.
The cable, classified “secret,” was titled “Paraguayan Pols Plot Parliamentary Putsch.” It described the risks Lugo faced from two major Paraguayan figures, cashiered Gen. Lino Oviedo and former President Nicanor Duarte Frutos.
“Duarte’s and Oviedo’s shared goal: Find a ‘cause celebre’ to champion so as to change the current political equation, break the political deadlock in Congress, impeach Lugo, and regain their own political relevance,” the cable said. “Oviedo’s dream scenario involves legally impeaching Lugo, even if on spurious grounds.”
The cable describes their efforts then as “mostly legal” and “a supposed democratic coup,” but it says that Lugo had been careful up until that point not give his enemies “the political or legal rope with which to hang him.”
The cable said that Lugo’s one advantage was that many found his vice president, now the country’s leader, to have “an oversized ego and a difficult personality.”
A cable filed in December 2009, after a visit by Arturo Valenzuela, then the State Department’s top official for Latin America, predicted that “while many are frustrated with the lack of progress under Lugo’s government, a muted optimism regarding Lugo’s potential should safeguard him against impeachment in the immediate future. But Lugo needs to take action and deliver results if he wants to finish his term.”
During a meeting with congressional leaders then, according to the cable, Valenzuela said he “understood that a constitutional impeachment process is not equal to a coup, but warned that Paraguay should not use impeachment as a mechanism to resolve short-term political problems without carefully thinking through the consequences.”