Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has stated that drug traffickers working with the opposition were behind the recent impeachment of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo.
On July 14, Chavez declared, "Drug traffickers ... infiltrated the ranks of the political right in Paraguay" to instigate the downfall of Lugo, adding, "It was a coup against all of us, against the dignity of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples," reported the Associated Press.
Chavez's comments came a little over a week after the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, blamed Lugo's removal on "narco-Coloradismo," the influence of drug traffickers on the right-wing opposition Colorado Party (ANR-PC) who ruled Paraguay for six decades until Lugo took office in 2008.
Though Lugo's successor, Federico Franco, is from the left-wing Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA), the group joined with the Colorado Party to bring about the vote that led to Lugo's removal. This has led some to speculate that the Colorado Party are laying the groundwork to come out on top in presidential elections scheduled for next year.
While Chavez is known for making outspoken comments of questionable accuracy, Paraguay is ranked as the second most corrupt country in Latin America by Transparency International's (TI) 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index -- only Venezuela was placed lower. However, how much of this corruption is down to narco-influence as opposed to other forms -- embezzlement or nepotism, for example -- is difficult to ascertain. What's more, the country scores lower on TI's index than it did when Lugo took office four years ago, suggesting traffickers may now have greater ease of operation than they did when the Colorado Party was in power.
Paraguay is South America's biggest producer of marijuana, and accounts for 15 percent of global production. This has made it a vital country for the drug trade, much of it run by Brazilian groups. In May last year, Paraguayan officials admitted that Brazilian gangs such as the First Capital Command (PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) had set up operations in the country.
While there have been reports of corruption in the Paraguayan military, including claims that soldiers sold arms to Brazilian gangs and let them operate their trafficking routes freely, this is little substantive evidence to back Chavez's claim that the corrupting influence of gangs has reached the upper echelons of politics.