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A Coup in Paraguay? Is that in Africa?


“Americans will do anything for Latin America except read about it.”  James Reston

 

“You go Uruguay and I’ll go my way,” said Groucho Marx, but what and where is Paraguay?

 

“And why should I care, the Giants are in first place, crab is in season and I will have health care,” said a San Francisco man.

 

I tried to explain that coups are so 20th Century even with the new non-military twists.

 

He shrugged.

 

I explained. Last week Paraguay’s elected president received a writ to appear before its Congress to face impeachment. The summons contained no evidence to support the charges of “incompetence”, because, the paper said, everyone already knew the facts. President Fernando Lugo would have two hours to answer the charges the next day.

 

Lugo’s defense request for 18 days to prepare as provided by law was denied, and Paraguay’s Congress ousted President Lugo and replaced him with Vice President Federico Franco, his vice-president from the right-wing Liberal party. Franco’s people had been scheming to throw Lugo out from the beginning of the term. Franco also got full support from the further-right Colorado party, the party of former dictator Gen. Alfredo Stroessner (1954-89).

 

U.S. State Department representative Victoria Nuland said on Monday that Washington is “quite concerned about the speed of the process used for this impeachment in Paraguay." (Translation: Washington won’t condemn this low priority presidential removal as a coup, unlike Paraguay’s South American neighbors who recalled their ambassadors.)

 

Another coup had taken place, like the 2009 one in Honduras, when sages promised there were to be no more coups in Latin America.

 

Spain, Germany, Canada and the Vatican recognized the new government soon thereafter. All of their routinely-expressed concerns about “democracy” in Latin America evaporated in the smoggy Paraguay air.

 

The 2008 census showed that 2% of Paraguay’s landowners held 80% of the land. Lugo had pushed for land reform—the grand theme throughout Latin America. Who’s next for a coup attempt? Bookies are taking odds on Bolivia.

 

Most of Latin America recoiled in revulsion at news of the coup, which came after a police conflict occurred against landless protesters. 17 people died. The Senate used the incident to declare Lugo guilty of "poor performance of his duties," citing a clause in the constitution that they claimed leaves wide room for congressional interpretation. Lugo did not agree. An AP photo showed three Paraguayan women underneath a sign saying “Get out Fascist Franco.”

 

OAS Secretary General of the, Jose Miguel Insulza, also stopped short of calling the events in Asuncion a “coup.”

 

In Honduras, the coup leaders staged elections at the end of the term of the de facto government, at which time the key world players will agree that democracy has been restored and that bygones should be forgotten because nothing significant happened. So there was a coup in whatchallit, so what?

 

Latin America and Caribbean nations responded that a coup is a coup no matter how you dress it or serve it up. They care.

 

Washington had cited the presence of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah cells in the region – huh? — as the reason for its recent military activities there, and hoped to gain positions from which it could attack the populist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia rather than seeking to counter phantom terrorist groups. Washington tends to be “concerned” over threats to its traditional hegemony like the newly-formed Union of South American Nations (Unasur) – and its planned regional defense system to which the US is not invited. State Department officials continued to sound off about how much they remained committed to democratic procedures. Sure, I thought, like Groucho said: “In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.”

 

Lugo rejected the US military’s plans once he learned that the US had launched an attack against a FARC camp in Ecuador's border zone from a base in Colombia.

 

Regretting Lugo's decision, US ambassador to Paraguay Liliana Ayalde expressed the hope that other cooperation programs – both military and civilian – would not be affected. Tentatively, she was worried about Paraguay's program of officer corps training and weapons acquisitions. The country's potential turn to populist regimes or to Brazil and Argentina in military affairs would no doubt be perceived by Washington as a foreign-policy fiasco.

 

Lugo's gravitating to the populist regimes annoyed US embassy staff. For Washington, the prospects of a strategic alliance between the Paraguayan president and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) looked frightening considering Henry Kissinger’s 1970s warning about the importance of the continent to the US plans for global dominance. But ALBA offered better terms.

 

Lugo also had to face a real class war as a reaction to his stated independent course. A rightist propaganda campaign targeting him swept across the continent’s media. The former priest's lifestyle was advertised as reckless debauchery, he allegedly had a number of out of wedlock children, and he supposedly tolerated corruption in his inner circle. U.S. Ambassador Liliana Ayalde warned Lugo’s “political enemies” could “pursue political means like “[i]mpeachment to remove him from office,” which State Department officials described as “interrupting the democratic process.”

 

His enemies said Lugo enjoyed the living standards of an oligarch while posing as the champion of the cause of the disadvantaged and that he called for class struggle from a Jacuzzi.  Some media went so far as to say that practically all of Lugo's relatives had ties with US agencies. The smear campaign did prompt a part of Paraguay's population to revoke their support for the president. (Thanks to Eric Stadius, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.)

 

The world witnessed a Parliamentary coup. The right ousted a reformer. In Paraguay’s north, a movement of 60 peasants supposedly tried to reclaim land. 60 peasants got wounded, when confronted by police, 6 of whom got shot. This conflict – “the facts” — led to the coup, which succeeds when the usurpers establish legitimacy. If the attacked government fails to thwart them, and allows their (strategic, tactical, political) consolidation and then receives the deposed government’s surrender; or the acquiescence of the populace and military.  

 

The conflict became the pretext to get Lugo. Was Washington involved? Who cares? US supplies military and police aid to Paraguay. I had trouble finding San Franciscans who knew where Paraguay was or cared what happened there. So why should the State Department care to say anything relevant?

 

Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP plays at Washington DC’s Avalon Theater August 14. 

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