Friday, 29 June 2012

Paraguay “coup” is affront to democracy

Ousted Paraguay President Fernando Lugo
Three years ago this month the elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup. Now, the Paraguayan people face a similar attack on their democracy following the removal of their elected, reforming President Fernando Lugo.

Vice-president Federico Franco has been put in power in place of Lugo after an illegitimate "impeachment" process last Friday.

Interestingly, at the time of the Honduran coup in 2009, an article on the Axis of Logic website argued that while "US influence in Paraguay is less obvious ... oligarchic forces in power for decades are conspiring to remove President Lugo, [who was] swept into power through popular mobilisation in 2008."

Lugo had had to "replace leading army officers accused of plotting. Calling Lugo a traitor, vice-president Federico Franco has signalled readiness to replace him."

Furthermore, Venezuelan Latin American Parliament deputy Carolus Wimmer has recalled how in 2009, Franco "did not conceal his involvement in the [coup] conspiracy" and had said he was "able to succeed Lugo," a situation that, according to Wimmer, has been "repeated again in June 2012."

Wimmer added there has been a vicious smear campaign against Lugo, "forged from the right sectors" and "under the auspices of the US embassy ... Names change, but the strategy remains."

Today, this scenario has become a reality with Franco put into power. The new government is linked to business elites and the landed oligarchy - those who grew rich during the 35 years of Alfredo Stroessner's dictatorship.

In contrast, Lugo, a Catholic bishop, was elected in 2008. Since then he has regularly denounced the actions of ultraconservative sectors and their attempts to remove him.

Lugo has labelled his removal as a blow against democracy and although he has accepted that he is currently out of office he has termed it an "express coup d'etat".

In what is widely regarded as a wholly illegitimate "impeachment process," both the Parliament and the Senate - both dominated by the right - voted in favour of impeaching Lugo and gave him just 24 hours to prepare for his trial.

These procedures have previously been declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Lugo government - a view echoed by regional bodies. Venezuela has denounced what has happened as a "new type of coup."

In order to justify his removal, Lugo's opponents accused him of irresponsibility and neglect during clashes between peasants and police last week.

It has also been reported that he was 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 guerilla group, the Paraguayan People's Army and that he signed an international leftist protocol without properly submitting it to congress for approval.

Some in the Senate even stated that proof of his guilt was not needed as it "was of public notoriety." One even accused Lugo of "committing the worst crimes since independence," conveniently ignoring the brutal 35-year dictatorship.

But it is obvious that for many the president's real crime was to challenge of the interests of the elite.

Although Paraguay's ruling oligarchy lost control of the presidency, they have continually used their stranglehold over the Senate to reverse the gains made by Paraguay's poor.

On Sunday, when asked whether he had any hope of retaking office, Lugo urged his followers to remain peaceful but suggested that popular national and international clamour could lead to his return, saying: "In politics, anything is possible."

Most governments in the region have reacted very strongly to these events. Argentina ordered the immediate withdrawal of its ambassador from Paraguay due to "rupture of the democratic order."

Brazil condemned Lugo's removal because he was not able to defend himself, saying that the actions compromised "a fundamental pillar of democracy."

Venezuelan Vice-President Elias Jaua said: "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."

He added that "here we have a people and a government ready to defend the sovereignty and independence of all the countries in the region," stressing that they are "letting imperialism know that our Latin America is no longer their backyard."

In Paraguay itself more than 50,000 people rallied in the capital to defend their president.

Their protests were met by force from the police, who used tear gas, water guns and rubber bullets. There have already been reports of human rights abuses from the new regime. Activists in Paraguayan union federation CUT-A have reported that the military fired live rounds at unarmed protesters and campesino leaders have reported activists being killed.

But what of the US? While it seems Paraguay's elite has the military for internal support, it is also clear this military has for decades been funded and trained by the US.

To many it seems unlikely that Paraguay's elite would act without assurances that the new government would continue to receive US support.

A grave concern must now be that the new government will need more weapons to defend itself from the popular protest.

The strong regional response shows that this "express coup d'etat" comes as a blow to an increasingly strong democratic consciousness in South America.

Recent years have seen coups in Honduras (successful), Ecuador (defeated), Bolivia - in what was termed a "civic coup" - (failed) and now Paraguay.

Meanwhile plans for coup attempts are frequently unearthed in Venezuela, considered the backbone of the left-wing advance.

The overthrowing of Lugo before his term had finished and without any consultation with the people is deeply worrying. It must be seen in a continental context, which also sees the US 4th fleet practising war games off the coast of Venezuela and the increase in US bases in region.

It also shows us in Britain that international solidarity is vital. Ten years on from the temporarily successful coup in Venezuela we must always be vigilant against the forces of reaction in Latin America and their external allies. It reinforces the need for the labour movement and all progressives to continually build solidarity with and awareness of those leading progressive change in the region.

Guest article by Matt Willgress

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