Farce and Power in Republican Paraguay: Lopez-Era Congresses and Elections and the 2012 Parliamentary Coup

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Cabinet Room (Omni Shoreham)
Michael Kenneth Huner, Grand Valley State University
In an essay detailing the causes, events, and social forces behind the ouster of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo in June 2012,  Andrew Nickson describes the legislative body that carried out the impeachment as of, for, and by the landed oligarchy of the country. Nonetheless, in a country often dominated by strong-handed autocrats, the aggressive and quick action of a feisty congress to unseat a president was noteworthy in the country’s political history. Moreover, Nickson recognizes that one of the immediate motives of coup conspirators was to deny the political parties of the left an institutional foothold to control government largess and machinery for electoral organizing in anticipation of the 2013 election. 

This paper explores a chapter of this history from the nineteenth-century, from a time when republican forms in the country, like congresses and elections, have been considered by both contemporary commentators and historians as something of a farce. In particular, it addresses the role of congresses and elections in consolidating the political power of the autocratic Lopez regimes during the mid-1800s and details episodes from the critical 1864 congress and election that allowed Francisco Solano Lopez to succeed his father to the presidency. It contends that even in autocratic contexts and largely theatrical displays of democratic legitimacy, both congresses and elections in Paraguay were, in fact, sites of contention. That is, the republican theater of elections and congresses had consequential meaning for those who observed and participated in them during the country’s early autocratic post-colonial years. Likewise, during the Paraguayan winter of 2012, the theatrical impeachment trial of a president by a plaintively un-democratic legislative body satisfied many detractors of Lugo, whether foreign or native, rich or poor, as democratically and institutionally legitimate, and effective.

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