Paraguay: Obama’s second Latin American coup; left governments condemn coup

June 25, 2012, Democracy Now! report on the coup against Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo. Transcript available here.

By Shamus Cooke

June 23, 2012 -- Workers Action -- The coup against Paraguay’s democratically elected president is not only a blow to democracy, but an attack against the working and poor population who supported and elected President Fernando Lugo, whom they see as a bulwark against the wealthy elite who’ve dominated the country for decades.

[Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo was ousted in what he has described as a parliamentary coup. On June 23, the Paraguayan Senate voted 39-to-4 to impeach Lugo, saying he had failed in his duty to maintain social order following a recent land dispute that resulted in the deaths of six police officers and 11 peasant farmers. A former priest, Lugo was once called the "Bishop of the Poor" and was known for defending peasant rights. Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Uruguay have all condemned Lugo’s ouster.]

The US mainstream media and politicians are not calling the events in Paraguay a coup, since the president is being “legally impeached” by the elite-dominated Paraguayan Congress. But as economist Mark Weisbrot explains in the British Guardian:

The Congress of Paraguay is trying to oust the president, Fernando Lugo, by means of an impeachment proceeding for which he was given less than 24 hours to prepare and only two hours to present a defense. It appears that a decision to convict him has already been written…The main trigger for the impeachment is an armed clash between peasants fighting for land rights with police…But this violent confrontation is merely a pretext, as it is clear that the president had no responsibility for what happened. Nor have Lugo’s opponents presented any evidence for their charges in today’s “trial.” President Lugo proposed an investigation into the incident; the opposition was not interested, preferring their rigged judicial proceedings.

What was the real reason the right-wing Paraguay Senate wanted to expell their democratically elected president? Another article by the Guardian makes this clear:

The president was also tried on four other charges: that he improperly allowed leftist parties to hold a political meeting in an army base in 2009; that he allowed about 3,000 squatters [landless peasants] to illegally invade a large Brazilian-owned soybean farm; that his government failed to capture members of a [leftist] guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army… and that he signed an international [leftist] protocol without properly submitting it to congress for approval.

The article adds that the president’s former political allies were "upset after he gave a majority of cabinet ministry posts to leftist allies, and handed a minority to the moderates…The political split had become sharply clear as Lugo publicly acknowledged recently that he would support leftist candidates in future elections.”

Fernando Lugo.

It’s obvious that the president’s real crimes are that he chose to ally himself more closely with Paraguay’s left, which in reality means the working and poor masses of the country, who, like other Latin American countries, choose socialism as their form of political expression.

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. This is similar to the situation in Egypt: when the old regime of the wealthy elite lost their president/dictator, they used their control of the judiciary in an attempt to reverse the gains of the revolution.

Is it fair to blame the administration of US President Barack Obama for the recent coup in Paraguay? Yes, but it takes an introductory lesson on US-Latin American relations to understand why. Paraguay’s right wing — a tiny wealthy elite — has a long-standing relationship with the United States, which has backed dictatorships for decades in the country — a common pattern in most Latin American countries.

The United States promotes the interests of the wealthy of these mostly poor countries, and in turn, these elite-run countries are obedient to the pro-corporate foreign policy of the United States (The Open Veins of Latin America is an excellent book that outlines the history).

Paraguay’s elite is incapable of acting so boldly without first consulting the United States, since neighbouring countries are overwhelmingly hostile to such an act because they fear a US-backed coup in their own countries.

Paraguay’s elite has only the military for internal support, which for decades has been funded and trained by the United States. President Lugo did not fully sever the U.S. military’s links to his country. According to Wikipedia, “The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) provides technical assistance and training to help modernize and professionalize the [Paraguay] military…”

In short, it is not remotely possible for Paraguay’s elite to act without assurance from the United States that it would continue to receive US political and financial support; the elite now needs a steady flow of guns and tanks to defend itself from the poor of Paraguay.

The Latin American countries surrounding Paraguay denounced the events as they unfolded and made an emergency trip to the country in an attempt to stop them. What was the Obama administration’s response? Business Week explains:

As Paraguay’s Senate conducted the impeachment trial, the U.S. State Department had said that it was watching the situation closely.

“We understand that Paraguay’s Senate has voted to impeach President Lugo”, said Darla Jordan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. “We urge all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility, in the spirit of Paraguay’s democratic principles.”

Obama might as well have said: “We support the right-wing coup against the elected president of Paraguay.” Watching a crime against democracy happen — even if it is “watched closely” — and failing to denounce it makes one complicit in the act. The US State Department’s carefully crafted words are meant to give implicit support to the new illegal regime in Paraguay.

Obama acted as he did because Lugo turned left, away from corporate interests, towards Paraguay’s poor. Lugo had also more closely aligned himself with regional governments which had worked towards economic independence from the United States. Most importantly perhaps is that, in 2009, President Lugo forbid the building of a planned US military base in Paraguay.

What was the response of Paraguay’s working and poor people to their new dictatorship? They massed 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, since President Lugo had raised their hopes of having a more humane existence.

President Lugo has unfortunately given his opponents an advantage by accepting the rulings that he himself called a coup, allowing himself to be replaced by a Senate-appointed president. But Paraguay’s working and poor people will act with more boldness, in line with the social movements across Latin America that have struck heavy blows against the power of their wealthy elite.

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 care anything about democracy.

[Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, Occupy activist and writer for Workers Action. This article is also available in Spanish:]

Left governments condemn Paraguay coup

By Stuart Munckton

June 24, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- The governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador strongly condemned on June 21 a parliamentary coup by the Paraguayan Congress against President Fernando Lugo.

BBC news said on June 22 that, after both houses of Congress voted to impeach Lugo, the president was forced to step down. The vice-president, Federico Franco, was sworn in as president on June 22, as supporters of Lugo massed on the streets, The Guardian said that day.

Prensa Latina said the vote to impeach Lugo came at the urging of the Rural Association of Paraguay and its Congressional members from the Colorado Party. The right-wing Colorado Party ruled Paraguay as a one-party dictatorship for decades.

The impeachment came after clashes over land evictions in Curuguaty on June 15, in which six police officers and 11 farmers were killed. Mark Weisbrot said in the June 22 Guardian the dispute was between landless workers who claimed the land they occupied had been illegally obtained by a Colorado Party politician.

Lugo was elected president in 2008, pledging to advance the rights of the poor, including land redistribution. However, Lugo lacked a majority in Congress.

Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said, “A truly shameful act has been committed”, The Guardian said. He denounced the move against Lugo as “a new type of coup”.

Venezuelan vice-president Elias Jaua described the coup as a new attack from the capitalists and the United States amed at weakening the Latin American revolutionary process, Venezuela Analysis said on June 22.

"The battle of the Paraguayan people is that of the Venezuelans, and we are committed to thwart this new attempt by the oligarchies and imperialism as we did in Venezuela in 2002, and also when they tried to topple Evo Morales and Rafael Correa ," he said.

Venezuela and Ecuador have said they refuse to recognise the new government.

Prensa Latina reported on June 21 that Bolivian President Evo Morales said the impeachment vote was a right-wing strategy aimed at toppling Lugo. He said it was intended to block the political process Lugo had begun in favour of the poorest and most excluded — the landless indigenous people.

Morales urged the indigenous and social movements in Latin America to defend the democratic process in Paraguay.

Morales said the “parliamentary coup d'etat” in Paraguay was also an attack against governments of the region that are implementing deep political, economical, social and cultural transformations that affect the most powerful.