Latin America resists coup in Paraguay
By Berta Joubert-Ceci
Jun 27, 2012
Another right-wing coup d’état has toppled a democratically elected president in Latin America. Three years after the coup in Honduras that deposed President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, the same forces have overthrown President Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.
These reactionary forces include the local oligarchy in Paraguay, along with the mostly U.S.-based transnational corporations and the U.S. Embassy, which exists to serve these corporations.
In an incredibly swift pace of events, the Paraguayan Legislature, composed overwhelmingly of Lugo’s right-wing opponents, voted on June 21 to hold an impeachment hearing in the Senate. The president had only two hours to prepare his defense.
The next day the Senate removed Lugo from office. His vice president, Federico Franco, from the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, who had turned against Lugo, was sworn in as president.
What provoked these rapid proceedings?
The forces opposing Lugo’s presidency have been working incessantly since he took office on Aug. 15, 2008, to remove him. Finally, they found an opportune moment to move. Many analysts in Paraguay and beyond assert that the reactionaries cooked up an incident in order to remove him.
On June 15, eleven campesinos and six police officers were killed and many peasants wounded when police moved against peasant occupiers of a farm run by the wealthiest man in Paraguay, Blas N. Riquelme. The peasants had occupied the land for almost three weeks, protesting the lack of arable land for small farmers.
Paraguay has a population of little more than 6 million people. Agriculture and meat trade are the motors of its economy. According to OXFAM.org, 2.6 percent of the population own 85.5 percent of the arable land, while more than 250,000 campesinos have no access to land.
Paraguay is also a paradise for the wealthy and transnational corporations because of its lax tax law that works to their benefit.
Riquelme owns land that was illegally ceded to him during the 1954-1989 violent dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. Riquelme was part of the then-ruling Colorado Party. Since 2010 the National Institute of Land and Rural Development has claimed that same land in order to include it in the Agrarian Reform Plan.
It is a common practice by wealthy landowners in Latin America to hire armed mercenaries. The peasants say that Riquelme contracted heavily armed thugs to shoot at them and also shoot at the police. Interestingly, one of the police killed was the brother of Lugo’s Chief of Security.
The police claim that the campesinos were armed with heavy weaponry and ambushed the police. People dismiss this as a lie, especially since only machetes and primitive rifles belonging to the campesinos were found at the site.
Lugo, with the support of the Organization of American States, was preparing an investigation of the terrible incident. He dismissed Minister of Interior Carlos Filizzola and Chief of Police Paulino Rojas. This, however, was not sufficient for the opposition, who accused Lugo of being responsible for the massacre.
The three other charges against Lugo expose the political nature of the impeachment: Lugo was charged with allowing a socialist event with Che Guevara flags in a military quarter, encouraging land occupations against landowners, and endangering citizens’ security by failing to combat the guerrilla Paraguayan People’s Army.
Contradictions of Lugo’s administration
Lugo won 41 percent of the votes in 2008 with an alliance of different organizations and parties that in general represented center-left forces, mostly social democratic ones. They were grouped under the banner of the Patriotic Alliance for Change. Even coup-President Franco’s Authentic Radical Liberal Party was initially part of this alliance.
In a country with a strong oligarchy tied to transnational agribusinesses and a history of fascist dictatorship, the progressive movement had tremendous difficulties. Hundreds of progressives had been in exile for many years due to political repression. And the forces behind Lugo were divided.
Lugo’s strongest defenders are not in Asunción, the capital, but in the rural areas. The Congress is dominated by the right-wing opposition. The oligarchy was and is the real power in the judiciary and most of the other government institutions, and of course, it controls the economy.
The only real power that Lugo could count on was the people, particularly the peasantry. Yet in an effort to appease the right wing, Lugo made too many concessions that then reduced his support among the masses and within some parties, including the Communist Party of Paraguay.
That Lugo made these concessions was a fundamental mistake that has proven disastrous. He even approved an antiterrorism law promoted by the U.S. after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But the right-wing and imperialism are never satisfied with mere concessions. As Che Guevara said, “Al imperialismo, ni un tantito así” (“To imperialism, not even the smallest concession”).
Despite the concessions, Lugo was able to make some positive reforms. These included free medicine for the people, subsidies for 20,000 families who live in dire poverty, and free breakfast and lunch in the public school system.
Role of U.S. government
& transnational agribusiness
According to a report Wikileaks released, the U.S. Embassy knew of the possibilities of a coup against Lugo as early as 2009. The report shows that then Vice President Franco spoke with the U.S. ambassador about the possibility of a coup and about his disagreement with Lugo. (elintransigente.com, June 25)
In another concession to the right-wing, Lugo nominated Rubén Candia from the Colorado Party to replace Filizzola as interior minister after the June 15 massacre. Candia was justice minister under right-wing President Nicanor Duarte (2003-2008).
In the article “Monsanto golpea en Paraguay: Los muertos de Curuguaty y el juicio político a Lugo” (“Monsanto hits Paraguay: The dead of Curuguaty and the political trial of Lugo”) published at rebelion.org, Paraguayan political journalist and author of the book “Los Herederos de Stroessner” (“Stroessner’s Heirs”) Idilio Méndez Grimaldi wrote that Candia was “accused of having promoted repression against leaders of peasant organizations and popular movements. Candia’s nomination to Attorney General in 2005 was approved by the then Ambassador of the United States, John F. Keen. Candia was responsible for an increased control by USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and was accused in the early days of his government by Fernando Lugo for conspiring against him to remove him from office.”
The U.S.-based transnational giant Monsanto is implicated in the events in Paraguay. Monsanto planned to introduce a genetically modified seed for commercial use in the country. Under Lugo’s administration, Paraguay’s National Service for Plants and Seeds Quality and Health (SENAVE) refused to approve the seed’s use.
The right-wing oligarchs favor the dissemination of Monsanto seeds, while the peasantry has been demonstrating against it. The Union of Associations of Producers, a landowners group tied to Monsanto, was preparing a demonstration for June 25 against Lugo to benefit the giant transnational and the “liberalization” of its genetically modified seeds. Obviously, they do not need to protest at this point.
International diplomacy on both sides
The U.S. State Department called on the Paraguayan people to remain calm. Imperialist Germany and the Pope sent representatives to greet Franco on his first day in office.
Even Latin American countries like the pro-U.S. regimes of Chile, Mexico, Panama and Colombia have expressed concerns about the illegality of the speedy trial against Lugo.
The ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) countries have released strong condemnations that do not recognize the new government.
Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and many others have recalled their ambassadors. As of June 25, Venezuela said it would cut the export of oil to Paraguay. Foreign ministers attending the Rio+20 conference in Brazil went to Paraguay in an effort to negotiate with the Paraguayan Senate during the hearing, but received a cold shoulder.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza also went to Paraguay, but the coup-plotters dismissed his efforts at mediation. The Paraguayan Senate has been the only opposition to the entrance of Venezuela to Mercosur since the economic and poilitical alliance of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay was first proposed in 1991. And now Mercosur has blocked the new Paraguayan government from attending its upcoming summit in Argentina.
UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), an even broader regional trade and coordinating body, whose current temporary president was provided by Paraguay, does not recognize the new government. This international association will transfer the presidency to Peru, where the next meeting will be held on June 27. On June 26, the foreign ministers from the OAS will also meet.
The countries in UNASUR and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), in an alliance that promotes integration regardless of dissimilar political currents, have been working hard to rely more on their associations and looking less to the U.S. for instructions.
The impact of their response creates problems for Franco. Trade and relations with its neighbors are important for the economy and health of Paraguay.
Paraguayan people’s resistance
Even though the Lugo’s administration failure to implement crucial programs, especially strong agrarian reform, had cost him support among the masses, the peasantry is defending the process for which they voted in 2008.
This is a sign of these times. Although an individual can be important, it is not the person behind the presidential office that is the main force behind progressive changes. The popular movements, their resilience and their aim to change their destiny away from imperialist oppression are what marks this new century in Latin America.
Paraguayan forces are regrouping and forming the Front to Defend Democracy, which met June 25 to plan a course of action. They held a press conference with Lugo after the meeting to announce their actions: Starting mobilizations on June 26 at a national level with the intention of eventually converging in Asunción; distributing flyers with information; having a presence in the streets and plazas; and organizing events, etc. They also set up a web page.paraguayresiste.com.
Already in several parts of Paraguay people have set up roadblocks or taken other actions. The workers of the National Public TV, which was invaded by the new government’s forces that shut down production, have set up a “Micrófono Abierto” (“Open Mic”) in the street where the people can speak about the situation in the country.
The website desdeparaguay.com/ tvpublica can be viewed live via the internet, where moving testimonies are given, including Lugo’s. It recalls the first few days of the Honduran coup against President Zelaya. Even a popular slogan chanted in Honduras is repeated here: “Si este no es el pueblo, el pueblo dónde está” (“If this is not the people, where do you think the people are?”)
The people of Paraguay have the immense solidarity of progressive movements all over the world. Statements of solidarity are constantly received through the internet.
¡El pueblo vencerá! The people will win!