Friday, June 22, 2012

Paraguay and legality

Events in Paraguay are moving fast--see boz for updates. The Senate is expected to vote on removal by 4:30 pm EST today. Fernando Lugo has been fighting Congress and facing coup rumors since he took office. The essential point here, as in other cases (I couldn't help but think of Bill Clinton) the complaints are political rather than criminal. The opposition just doesn't like what he's doing.

Yet it corresponds to the constitution, which is vague on this point. From Article 225:

El Presidente de la República, el Vicepresidente, los ministros del Poder Ejecutivo, los ministros de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, el Fiscal General del Estado, el Defensor del Pueblo, el Contralor General de la República, el Subcontralor y los integrantes del Tribunal Superior de Justicia Electoral, sólo podrán ser sometidos a juicio político por mal desempeño de sus funciones, por delitos cometidos en el ejercicio de sus cargos o por delitos comunes. 
La acusación será formulada por la Cámara de Diputados, por mayoría de dos tercios. Corresponderá a la Cámara de Senadores, por mayoría absoluta de dos tercios, juzgar en juicio público a los acusados por la Cámara de Diputados y, en caso, declararlos culpables, al sólo efecto de separarlos de sus cargos, En los casos de supuesta comisión de delitos, se pasarán los antecedentes a la justicia ordinaria.

What is "mal desempeño de sus funciones"? A rough translation is "poor performance of his duties." It's up to the legislature to decide what that means. It can, in fact, mean anything they want it to as long as they have the votes. I am not saying this is good; I am saying it is constitutional.

This made me think about an odd point, namely that the political left and right in Latin America are constantly accusing each other of conducting nefarious plots legally. As far as I've seen, Lugo has argued that the actions are illegitimate, but not that they are illegal.

We constantly hear that actions taken by Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez represent the development of a "constitutional dictatorship" because they fall within the constitution but are undemocratic. Yet the right now says Paraguay is totally different because the right is acting within the constitution. Both the left and the right often seem to acknowledge the legal nature of their opponent's actions.

There are three conclusions we can take, some of which are contradictory. I am not yet convinced of any of them, but offer them as thoughts in process.

First, too many extreme political maneuvers are legal in Latin America. Constitutions are jam packed--Paraguay's has 291 articles. There is extraordinarily broad scope that allows for too much. I should mention, though, that the Paraguayan constitution has tremendous detail, yet the impeachment article is left vague.

Second, endemic corruption can adapt to any legal form. Who cares what the constitution says if the driving force of regime change is the entrenchment of corrupt elites? Lugo had powerful enemies, so they would figure out some way of ousting him.

Third, it's positive that all sides at least on the surface adhere to the laws. Manipulating constitutions is not new, but should we applaud the fact that the military has publicly said it would remain neutral? This is preferable to the clearly unconstitutional actions in Honduras three years ago.


Otto 10:25 AM  

Point 3 is moot. The military will play its cards strategically, not publically.

Point 1 strong agreement

Marcelo,  11:42 AM  

Greg, This is a very interesting post-- although in the end probably all Constitutions are vague and it is only the relative sanity of the political culture that gives them life. I would quibble with the Honduran example. It actually is in my opinion more evidence of the same problem you point to. I wrote about the Honduran Constitution back in 2009, and a strongly worded clause (against re-election attempts) that the coup organizers pointed to in order to justify their actions as legal.

jeff house 10:55 PM  

Given what you've written about the Constitution of Paraguay, it's pretty clear that what they've done is Constitutional.

Hugo Chavez can't say that; all you have to do is look at his desruction of the independence of the judiciary.

Or how he's disqualified Lopez from running for President, based on a decree, or a million other violations.

Anonymous,  12:30 AM  

The proof that sustain the accusation (this is what was presented in the congress)


Todas las causales mencionadas más arriba, son de pública notoriedad, motivo por el cual
no necesitan ser probadas, conforme a nuestro ordenamiento jurídico vigente.

Bad translation "All the aformentioned accusations are of public knowledge, hence they do not require to be proven according to our current legal system"

If this is not a joke...

Greg Weeks 7:55 AM  

Where is the text of the accusation available?

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