Paraguay: Reshuffling of military sparks institutional crisis

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo’s decision to replace the commanders of 13 military units is being scrutinized by the senate. (Jorge Adorno/Reuters)

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo’s decision to replace the commanders of 13 military units is being scrutinized by the senate. (Jorge Adorno/Reuters)

By Marta Escurra for Infosurhoy.com – 09/11/2010

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – President Fernando Lugo’s order to replace the commanders of 13 military units connected to the handling of the armed forces’ financial and logistical resources has the nation embroiled in a constitutional crisis.

The order also forced the retirement of a rear admiral, eight colonels, a captain, 14 brigadier generals, and about 30 lower-ranking officers within the military.

But congress ruled the personnel changes violated the Constitution because while the orders were given by Lugo, who also serves as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the decision occurred while he wasn’t technically in charge of the country.

“The irregularity in this is that at the time, Lugo was being treated for lymphatic cancer at the Sírio-Libanês Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, and thus Paraguay was in effect governed by the vice-president, Federico Franco,” said Sen. Hugo Estigarribia, a member of the Senate’s Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Franco claimed he had not been apprised of the changes in question and accused President Fernando Lugo of violating article 238 of the Constitution, which establishes the rights and duties of the President of the Republic.

Lugo’s decision was constitutional, Silva Facetti says

Silva Facetti, who also belongs to the Senate’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, disagrees with Franco. He said Lugo’s decision is constitutional since “it falls under appropriate regulations and is legal. Furthermore, it has the same validity as an armed forces resolution.”

Defense Minister Cecilio Pérez Bordón said Lugo’s command had been issued, and denied any role in a supposed conspiracy plan hatched by sectors of the Paraguayan left, which is linked to Lugo’s government, to diminish Lugo’s authority.

But Pérez Bordón changed his initial story and introduced a document signed by Fernando Lugo on Oct. 4, 2010 that ordered the changes.

said Liberal Party Sen. Alfredo Jaeggli, who witnessed Pérez Bordón’s testimony.

Jaeggli considered the matter to be a violation of the Constitution, and said that, if warranted, Fernando Lugo may face charges.

Pérez Bordón, in addition to presenting the document signed by Lugo, testified before the Constitutional Affairs Committee. Pérez Bordón said he had tried to get in touch with acting President Federico Franco, but he was unable to reach him on the telephone and wasn’t notified of Lugo’s decision.

Estigarribia said the committee will determine whether the document introduced by Pérez Bordón is authentic. He said Pérez Bordón could not be held legally responsible for his actions since he was not involved in the chain of command.

But among those, Estigarribia said, who could be held responsible are the military officers who carried out the reorganization orders, which includes the Armed Forces Commander, Brigadier General Felipe Melgarejo; the Commander of the Air Force, Miguel Christ Jacobs; the Commander of the Army, Darío Cáceres Snead; the Commander of the Navy, Juan Carlos Benítez; and the Commander of the Logistical Command, Waldino Acuña.

“What we have here is the burden of responsibility also falling on the military officers,” said Estigarribia, who emphasized military personnel cannot act with impunity.

Estigarribia said the order to administer the changes did not “come from him.”

“There’s something weird here,” Estigarribia said. “Like it or not, [the military officers and the minister of defense] had to respect the vice-president.”

Pérez Bordón said the intention never was to disregard Franco’s authority.

The senate will discuss the situation on Nov. 11.

“We will evaluate the document and the facts,” Estigarribia said. “Then, we will take action.”

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