by Guillermo Almeyra
The conspiracy against the Paraguayan president, former bishop Fernando Lugo, began the day he won the presidential election, since he could only assume office thanks to a popular mobilization. Without a party of his own, without a parliamentary caucus of any importance to back him, with a vast but dispersed and disorganized supportive base in the peasantry, forced to face opposition in the hierarchy of his own church, he has always depended on a fragile alliance with the party of Vice President Federico Franco, the Liberal Radical party, which is extremely conservative and represents a sector of the landowners.
Partisans of the Stroessner dictatorship, meanwhile, were and still are embedded in the public administration, the police forces, the so-called justice system and the Supreme Court. Lugo tried too late to form a party/front, the Frente Guasú (“broad” in Guaraní), which is just now taking its first steps and is far from being homogeneous. But all the Paraguayan Rights, backed in the shadows by the United States, wanted to leave no room for the center-left to organize and to try to hold on to power, even though there is more than a year to go before the end of Lugo’s term and ten months before the elections, in which in any case the president cannot be re-elected.
Under the leadership of Horacio Cardes, an ultraconservative landowner in the Colorado party, with ties to drug trafficking as well, a parody of a political trial was organized which lasted one day and was based on unproven allegations that Lugo was inciting the campesinos’ occupations of land and fought only weakly against the small campesino guerrilla force that operates in the department where his diocese had been. Cardes, along with the Oviedistas [followers of Lino César Oviedo, an authoritarian Paraguayan general, imprisoned for threatening to stage a coup in 1996 and later released], the conservative Patria Querida party and members of the Liberal party, staged a parliamentary “golpe blanco” (a “bloodless coup”), since they did not have to kidnap the president by force of arms and remove him from the country in his underwear, as Lugo could probably take refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
The pretext for hastening the coup was the killing in Curuguaty a week ago, in which the armed forces attacked campesinos, who defended themselves, with the result of 17 dead, including police and campesinos, 80 injured and dozens arrested. The parliamentary ouster of Lugo was resisted by demonstrators who came together spontaneously in front of congress, by campesinos in the interior, who blocked roads, by Paraguayan immigrants in Argentina, who returned to Paraguay by the thousands to block the coup or demonstrated at the Buenos Aires Obelisk.
In the Senate, only four legislators defended Lugo, but his support is not in the capital, where a middle class of functionaries and Colorado party members holds sway, but in the campesino provinces of the interior, where the resistance will be long and hard.
Fernando Lugo was also president pro tempore of the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Unasur) and the coup against him is therefore a new blow by the Paraguayan Right against South American integration, after the refusal by the Paraguayan Congress to admit Venezuela into the Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur) and the resistance to integration of Bancosur. The Unasur foreign ministers who traveled to Asunción to try to dissuade the golpistas were not able to prevent this poorly disguised coup, just as the Organization of American States was not able to stop the Micheletti dictatorship in Honduras when the parliament of that country ousted constitutional president Manuel Zelaya three years ago, also in June.
The fact is that behind both coups, as was amply demonstrated and documented in the Honduran case, is the United States. Paraguay is the key to controlling the Guaraní aquifer, the largest reserve of water in the world, which lies in its territory and parts of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Also in Paraguay is the United States military base at Estigarribia, which controls the area of the Argentine/Brazilian/Paraguayan triple border. In the Argentine province of Chaco, bordering Paraguay, the United States wanted to establish another, smaller, base, with the support of Governor Jorge Capitanich, the same one who says that striking truckers are unpatriotic, but popular protest blocked that violation of Argentine sovereignty at the same time that President Cristina Fernández was saying she was defending sovereignty in the Malvinas Islands.
A Paraguayan government allied with Unasur and, in particular, influenced by the Brazilian-Argentine axis, is contrary to the interests of the United States. Hence the green light for a coup that was, beyond any doubt, discussed and polished in Asunción together with United States diplomats and that repeats the methods, somewhat improved, employed a short time ago in Honduras, another poor and weak country with a hesitant president.
The Unasur countries could now isolate Paraguay economically, since it has no access to the sea, and take away its economic support; they could also refuse to recognize Franco’s puppet government, which will last only as long as needed to move the presidential election forward, or hold it in 2013, leaving the office to the Colorado Party. But the campesinos will not wait for that diplomatic pressure and they will react by occupying land, blocking roads, building local power and possibly, given their traditions, resorting to arms to make guerrilla warfare, which at the borders could depend on the benevolence of the governments of Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, which cannot accept this blow to Unasur.
The golpistas got rid of the weak Lugo without firing a shot, but they will probably have to fire shots in what is to come and do so frequently, against growing social protests which will be fed by the anger of all the social and campesino movements of the continent in the face of this shameless repetition of the Honduran escapade.
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Tags: Curuguaty, Federico Franco, Fernando Lugo, Frente Guasu, golpe blanco, Honduras, Horacio Cardes, Manuel Zelaya, Mercado Comun del Sur, Paraguay, parliamentary coup, Partido Colorado, Partido Liberal Radical, Union de Naciones Suramericanas