NOAM Chomsky, in an interview to Democracy Now, comparing George Bush and Barack Obama said: “If Bush, the Bush administration, didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers; if the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them, so you don’t have to have torture chambers all over”. Of course, another important difference is, one (Obama) is a Nobel Peace prize winner and the other is not. It is not just in West Asia/North Africa that we find the intervention of the US; it is continuing with these nefarious designs in Latin America, which it still considers its ‘backyard’. The recent events, where president Fernando Lugo was removed from power in Paraguay reaffirms this. Before that it had its hand in Honduras (2009), Haiti (2010), Ecuador (unsuccessful in 2010) and in several destabilising efforts in Venezuela and Bolivia. All these and similar efforts are together labelled as ‘coup 2.0′.
Coups in Latin America are acquiring newer and newer forms. Instead of the pure and simple military coup, new ways are emerging, ranging from social destabilisation generated by the police (Ecuador) to the fraudulent use of judicial and even constitutional resources – like in Honduras and now in Paraguay. Of course, this does not mean that military coups are completely out of question – they are just in time freeze. In Paraguay it is as smooth as it can be: the president was removed from his post using certain constitutional provisions. In fact, Article 225 of the 1992 constitution of Paraguay states that the Congress and the Senate can impeach the president of the country, for ‘poor performance of duties’. Viewing thus, there is nothing unconstitutional that had happened in Paraguay. But this is only a tiny fragment of the story.
Evoking this constitutional provision, the opposition in Paraguay called for the impeachment of the president, gave him less than 24 hours to prepare and even less than two hours to defend his case. In all, the entire impeachment procedure lasted just six hours. As a political observer of the continent pointed out, in the period of globalisation and in the times of ‘instant’ coffee, the impeachment procedures too are getting accelerated. In this ridiculously short time given for defending his actions, the president was voted out of his post by an over-whelming majority, both in the Congress and the Senate. Even Federico Franco, the vice president who had led the coup and replaced Lugo as the president, was forced to accept that the entire process was a little “too fast”.
The charges levelled against him for moving the impeachment motion expose the real intentions in voting out president Lugo. The charges are self-explanatory: irresponsibility and neglect during clashes between peasants and police; he improperly allowed Leftist parties to hold a political meeting in an army base in 2009; he allowed about 3,000 squatters (landless peasants) to illegally invade a large Brazilian-owned soybean farm; his government failed to capture members of a Leftist guerilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army and that he signed an international Leftist protocol (MERCOSUR treaty) without properly submitting it to Congress for approval. The intentions are explicitly stated in a statement made while moving the impeachment motion in the legislature: “The constant confrontation and struggle of social classes, which as a final result brought about the massacre between compatriots, is an unprecedented development in the annals of history from independence till today”. So, it is the question of land and the struggle for its ownership that is at the heart of the problem.
Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in the world and in Latin America too. It has some of the highest land concentrations in the world. According to the latest agricultural census carried out in 2008, 85.5 per cent of the farmland is in the hands of just 2.06 per cent of the population. Sixty per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty as a result of this high concentration of land. On the top of it, agribusiness plays a dominating role in the polity of the country. Monsanto collects royalties on the transgenic soy and cotton seeds planted throughout Paraguay, and in 2011 it collected $30 billion. 40 per cent of the production and refining of Paraguayan soy is owned by Cargill that earns $100 billion annual profits a year. All these giant agribusiness houses enjoy many protections from Congress and pay no taxes – benefits gained during the sixty year rule of the Colorado party, in which a major role was played by Alfredo Stroessner, a US-supported dictator. The incident that triggered the impeachment of Lugo was the massacre at Curuguaty, a province in Paraguay, in which 18 people were killed (eleven were peasants and seven were police). The incident occurred when the special Paraguayan operation forces (Grupo Especial de Operaciones, GEO) led the raid on 60 peasants who were occupying 2000 hectares of land in an area called Marina Cue. These people did not belong to any specific peasant organisation. The land they had occupied is disputed, but its ownership is claimed by Blas N Riquelme, who is a former senator from the Colorado party and one of the richest and largest landowners in the country. In 1969, the Stroessner administration illegally gave Riquelme 50,000 hectares of land that was supposed to be destined to poor farmers as a part of land reform. This case of ill-gotten land was reported in the Report of the Truth and Justice Commission in 2008, while peasants have been fighting for ownership of this land since 1989, the fall of dictatorship.
Many analysts had expressed their reservations about the June 15 Curuguaty massacre, stating that it might even been stage-managed by the ruling classes to trap Lugo and ensure that he is eased out of the president’s office. The involvement of the special Paraguayan operation forces who are trained by the US military, strengthens their suspicions as it still has two bases in Paraguay. (Interestingly, not far from this military base lie 40,000 hectares of land acquired by former US president George W Bush, and another enormous property owned by his father, former president George H W Bush.) Paraguay is a signatory of the Northern Zone Initiative (IZN) that many refer to as an equivalent of the despised Plan Colombia. Much of the US military influence in the country stems from this pact, which allows for ‘humanitarian assistance’. It was signed with the US in 1961, and not reviewed either after the end of the dictatorship or the victory of Lugo.
It is a known fact that ruling classes in Paraguay are not happy with Lugo’s election as president. In 2008, just 18 days after assuming the presidency, Lugo publicly exposed a conspiracy to remove him from government by force. There is a strong opinion, which believes that Federico Franco too was involved in this coup attempt. Wikileaks expose in 2009 refers to a conversation of an US intelligence official with Federico Franco. Franco belongs to the right-wing Liberal Radical Authentic Party and enjoys ‘friendly relationship’ with the US embassy. He regularly discussed and shared his numerous arguments and disagreements with president Lugo with the US embassy officials, as the secret cables reveal.
The cables also talk about an interesting incident that happened in March 2010. At a luncheon meeting in honour of the visiting US generals, the US ambassador Liliana Ayalde proposed a debate about the political situation in Paraguay and the possibility of impeaching president Lugo. Paraguay’s minister of defence, General (retired) Luis Bareiro Spaini, who was present at the meeting (also attended by Franco) objected. This earned him a censure from the Senate for his ‘affronts to the US ambassador’, while the conniving vice president was left untouched.
The notorious USAID in Paraguay, works closely with the Paraguayan Supreme Court, the Hacienda ministry, security organs and the Colorado Party.
There are three compelling reasons for a coup in Paraguay. One, while Lugo failed to meet many of his campaign promises, he did in fact block many of the right-wing’s policies that would worsen the crisis in the countryside. For example, Lugo and his cabinet resisted the use of Monsanto’s transgenic cotton seeds in Paraguay, a move that hastened his ouster. The agribusiness corporates and the ruling classes saw Lugo if not a threat to their interests, as an hindrance to the speed at which they wanted to earn profits. Moreover, Lugo has voiced his support for the regional integration with other governments in the continent. This regional cooperation is not viewed positively either by the US or the transnational companies.
Two, Lugo is relatively the weakest of all the progressive presidents in the region. He was isolated from above at the political level, always dependent on the right-parties’ mercy and lacked a strong political base below due to his stance towards social movements and the slow pace of land reform. Peasants and peasant organisations had lots of hopes on Lugo, who they thought would introduce land reforms. But Lugo, after his victory as president and lack of majority in the Congress, was caught in a dilemma: whether to stand by the peasants and implement his electoral promises, running a risk of losing the government; or whether to be in the government with compromises and wriggle out whatever he was allowed to implement his electoral promises. As his ouster points out, this dilemma cost him both power and support of the social movements and peasants. Argentine political scientist Atilio Boron refers to Lugo’s administration as a “timidly progressive government that is unable to convoke a broad social movement support and Left parties to its side”.
Three, apart from the absence of substantial support to the president, all the major parties in the country are against him. Moreover, Paraguay is a small land-locked country in the continent that is not much in the international news, unlike countries like Ecuador, Bolivia or Venezuela. Lugo was also not a committed anti-imperialist like the presidents of the aforementioned countries. Lugo’s belief that he could “govern with imperialism, with the feudal oligarchy and with the right-wing parties” led to his ouster. A joint statement issued by 29 social movements and 172 individuals condemning the coup and demanding the reinstatement of Lugo, candidly states: “one can never talk the talk of revolution while walking the walk of extractive capital. Capital wins when condescending governments recklessly provide their stamp of approval for their projects. We, the people, lose”.
The coup should be seen in the context of increasing US military bases in the region and the war games carried out by the US Fourth Fleet near the coast of Venezuela. It is wrong to assume that US imperialism got bogged down with the affairs in West Asia/North Africa and does not have the wherewithal to intervene in the affairs of Latin America. As recent events point out, the US is very active to regain its foothold in the region. It is trying to use the discontent against the progressive regimes in this region to fuel coups and rightist take-overs. In this background, the struggle for restoration of president Lugo assumes tremendous importance. If it is left unchallenged, it will further strengthen the conservative forces in the continent.
The Paraguayan coup once again reiterates that personal charisma and radical promises might bring a person to power but to withstand the attacks of the right and use the power attained for the benefit of the poor, it is necessary to have a strong political organisational machinery. Chavez had learnt it after the coup in 2002, and immediately founded his political party, PSUV and empowered the various missions to develop a strong mass base in his support. Lugo didn’t and paid the price for it. However, what Lugo lost is not something personal. The coup is affront to the aspirations of the people of Paraguay and should be defeated.
Even today in Paraguay, many Leftists, social movements and peasants still see Lugo as a relative ally and source of hope in the face of the right-wing alternative. This is why thousands of people are on the streets protesting the ‘constitutional coup’. Solidarity with Lugo means standing in defence of all the progressive developments that had taken place in the continent over the last decade. We must join forces to prevent all such attempts designed to reverse them. Latin America became a source of inspiration to all the progressive people in the world because of its struggles against neo-liberalism and imperialism. The ‘coups’ are an attempt to snuff out that source of inspiration. Standing opposed to such attempts is the task of all the progressive minded people of the world.