Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants

Title

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

Department

History Department

College

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Disciplines

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

In an incisive essay detailing the causes, events, and social forces behind the ouster of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo in the parliamentary golpe of June 2012, political economist Andrew Nickson describes the legislative body that carried out the impeachment as essentially one of, for, and by the landed oligarchy of the country. Nonetheless, in a country often dominated by strong-handed autocrats ruling from a presidential office, the aggressive and quick action of a feisty congress to unseat a president was noteworthy in the countrys political history. Indeed, following the coup, Lugos own collaborators admitted their failure to initially appreciate the former presidents political weakness in the national congress as not only an obstacle to realizing reforms but also as a potential institutional weapon of his enemies to bring about his downfall. Moreover, Nickson perceptively recognizes that one of the immediate motives of coup conspirators was to deny the incipient political parties of the left an institutional foothold to control government largess and machinery for electoral organizing in anticipation of the 2013 election. Again, despite the seeming novel significance of empowered congresses, consequential elections, and electoral machineries in present-day Paraguayan society and how they function as incipient democratic forms butting up against severe limitations, there is, as we might expect, a much deeper history here. This paper explores a brief chapter of this history from the nineteenth-century, from a time when incipient 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 in the seat of 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, notable sites of contention. Moreover, they were consequential mediums to spin and weave together the local and national-scale power of landed elites. That is, the republican theater of elections and congresses had consequential meaning for those who observed and participated in them during the countrys 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.

Conference Name

American Historical Association Annual Meeting

Conference Location

Washington DC

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