Date: Sat, 12 Dec 1998 15:51:31 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: PARAGUAY: President Comes Under Attack by Church and Congress
Article: 49902
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** ips.english: 519.0 **/
** Topic: PARAGUAY: President Comes Under Attack by Church and Congress **
** Written 3:12 PM Dec 11, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

President Comes Under Attack by Church and Congress

By Carlos Montero, IPS, 8 December 1998

ASUNCION, Dec 8 (IPS)—The Catholic Church of Paraguay gave a severe public tongue-lashing to President Raul Cubas, who is setting out for a Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur) summit—where Paraguayan legislators plan to denounce him for violating the constitutional order.

At Monday's celebration of the day of the Virgin of Caacupe—Paraguay's main religious festival—Bishop Claudio Gimenez warned a crowd of more than 100,000 (a Radio Nanduti estimate) including President Cubas that authoritarianism wants to take possession of Paraguay once again.

The bishop praised last Friday's Supreme Court ruling that annulled Cubas' August decision—one of his first as president—to commute the 10-year prison sentence handed down to his political mentor, retired general Lino Oviedo.

But the president has referred the case to a military court, which is to decide whether or not Oviedo must return to prison.

In March, Oviedo was sentenced by a military tribunal to 10 years in prison for leading a squashed April 1996 armed uprising against Cubas' predecessor, Juan Carlos Wasmosy.

Oviedo, the leader of the governing Colorado Party, would be president today if he had not been sent to prison and disqualified to run as a candidate in the May 10 elections.

(The Colorado Party has been in power for the past 50 years, including a 1954-89 dictatorship headed by Gen. Alfredo Stroessner.)

Both houses of Congress will meet in an extraordinary session Thursday to consider formally declaring that the president has caused a break with the constitutional order. Oviedo has called on his followers to surround parliament.

On Monday, meanwhile, civil guards, police shock units, and members of the presidential guard formed a cordon around Cubas during the religious celebration. Some 1,500 security agents were posted around the National Basilica of Caacupe (52 kms from the capital) since Sunday evening.

At the start of his sermon, Bishop Gimenez said he was happy to see the top figures of the executive and legislative branches and the judiciary all together in the first row.

He called the Supreme Court decision encouraging, and said it had restored the people's trust.

But a decree signed Friday by Cubas and his cabinet accused the Supreme Court of infringing the authority of the executive branch and disrupting the institutional order.

In remarks read by analysts as thinly veiled allusions to Oviedo, Gimenez lashed out against politics without principles and populist political bosses who arrogantly manipulate the people while disregarding any criticism.

It is very difficult this way to build a nation that wants to live in democracy, he added, while criticising those who deceive the peasants with campaign promises that are never fulfilled.

At the end of the religious ceremony, the president and his ministers traditionally take breakfast with a group of bishops and priests. But on Monday, Cubas and his cabinet ate breakfast in a separate room.

In a recent survey carried out by 'First', a local polling firm, 27 percent of those interviewed said the country's overall situation was worse since Cubas took office in August, 56 percent said it was the same, and 10 percent said it was better.

Sociologist Francisco Capli, director of First, said parliament was the institution with the worst public image, while the Catholic Church was respected by more than half of the population, with an approval rating slightly higher than that of the press.

Although a majority of legislators opposed Oviedo's release from prison, they have been unable to drum up the votes needed in order to initiate impeachment proceedings against Cubas.

The parliamentarians are worried about Oviedo's call for his supporters to surround Congress Thursday, due to a local tradition of riots during which Colorado Party agitators have even beaten members of Congress after breaking into their offices.

Some 2,600 vehicles are ready to carry Oviedo supporters to Congress. We are entering a dangerous phase, there are risks, the people have a sensation of instability, said Senator Miguel Abdon Saguier, president of the last Congress.

With this mass demonstration, it is hard to know whether the institutions will be maintained. We are in a kind of 'Caesarism', where people transmit sovereignty to a leader who says these institutions are of no use, Saguier lamented.

Marciano Torales, a representative of Oviedo's movement, said meanwhile that there was a crisis caused by an excess of Supreme Court authority.

Senator Elba Recalde, who like Saguier is a member of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, suggested Monday that all opposition parliamentarians abandon their seats as a form of protest.

When Congress holds its extraordinary session Thursday, Cubas will be in Rio de Janeiro, at the Mercosur presidential summit.

Deputy Luis Alberto Wagner said a majority of the Paraguayan legislators sitting on the Joint Mercosur Parliamentary Commission would seek a condemnation by that body of Cubas' break with the institutional order.

The regional integration accords signed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, which gave rise to Mercosur, include a democratic clause which stipulates that any country that disrupts the constitutional order is to be kicked out of the bloc.

In 1996, when Oviedo defied Wasmosy's authority, Mercosur did not formally invoke the democratic clause, but did apply intense pressure, which played a major role in helping the Paraguayan government overcome the crisis.

Mercosur is the world's fourth largest economic player after the United States, the European Union and Japan, linking close to 200 million inhabitants and accounting for 80 percent of South America's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).