by Shamus Cooke
The recent coup against President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay is not only a blow to democracy but is also an attack against the working and poor population who saw their democratically elected president as a bulwark against the wealthy elite who have dominated the country for decades.
The U.S. mainstream media and politicians are not calling Lugo’s purportedly legal impeachment, for which the Paraguayan senate gave him 24 hours’ notice and only two hours to prepare a defense, a coup. The senate found a pretext for the impeachment in a June 15 armed confrontation between landless peasant farmers and security farmers trying to evict them, in which 6 police and 11 peasants were killed. The Associated Press’s Pedro Servin lists the official charges brought against Lugo as follows:
…that he improperly allowed leftist parties to hold a political meeting in an army base in 2009; that he allowed about 3,000 squatters to illegally invade a large Brazilian-owned soybean farm; that his government failed to capture members of a guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army… and that he signed an international protocol without properly submitting it to congress for approval. (footnote 1)
However, Servin continues, many members of the same senate were known to have been “upset after he gave a majority of cabinet ministry posts to leftist allies” and pledged support to leftist candidates in future elections. It is also widely acknowledged that the agribusiness executives with whom Paraguay’s right wing has allied itself have been likewise upset with Lugo’s support for land reform. The president’s crimes are that he chose to ally himself more closely with Paraguay’s left, i.e. with the country’s poor and working class.
Although Paraguay’s elite lost control of the presidency when Lugo was elected, they used their stranglehold over the Senate to reverse the gains made by Paraguay’s poor. Paraguay’s tiny right wing could not have acted so boldly without the assurance of political and financial support of the United States, which for decades has supported Paraguay’s military, especially given the hostility to such an act by neighboring governments fearing a U.S.-backed military action in their own countries. The elite will now needs a steady flow of guns and tanks to defend itself from the poor of Paraguay.
The governments of Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina denounced the events as they unfolded, and other neighboring countries (including Uruguay and Chile) have since recalled their ambassadors to Paraguay. Meanwhile, as Paraguay’s senate conducted the impeachment trial, the U.S. State Department failed to denounce the coup. Darla Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, stated: “We understand that Paraguay’s Senate has voted to impeach President Lugo…We urge all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility, in the spirit of Paraguay’s democratic principles.” These carefully crafted words connote support for the new illegal regime. The United States chose complicity with the coup because Lugo had turned away from corporate interests and aligned himself with regional governments that had worked towards economic independence from the United States. In 2009, President Lugo forbade the building of a planned U.S. military base in Paraguay.
What was the response of Paraguay’s working and poor people to their new dictatorship? They amassed outside of the Congress and were attacked by riot police and water cannons. It is unlikely that they will sit on their hands during this episode.
Although President Lugo initially accepted the outcome of the coup, allowing himself to be replaced by a senate-appointed president, he later changed his mind and decided to fight to be re-instated as President. Lugo will have plenty of allies among the working and poor people of Paraguay, who are likely to respond with the same tenacity as the other social movements have across Latin America in the last ten years.
President Obama’s devious actions towards Paraguay reaffirm which side of the wealth divide he stands on. His first coup in Honduras sparked the outrage of the entire hemisphere; this one will confirm to Latin Americans that neither Republicans nor Democrats in the United States government are motivated to protect democracy in Latin America.
1.Servin, Pedro. “Paraguay’s president ousted in impeachment trial”. The Guardian, 22 June 2012.