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Paraguay: Cuidado! A Coup in Sight

January 6, 2010

Fernando Lugo, President of Paraguay


Havana. January 5, 2010

Watch out! …coup in sight

Nidia Diaz

• IT was to be expected that former bishop Fernando Lugo’s real battle would begin from the day that he assumed the Paraguayan presidency on August 15, 2008. The setback suffered by the Colorado Party forces in the elections after more than 60 years in government did not make them a constructive opposition; on the contrary, they dusted off their dirty arsenal of slander campaigns — in which they are experts — and all kinds of tricks to remove Lugo from power.

To do so, they would have had the support of the landowning oligarchy, business owners grown rich off smuggling, and the old political practice of selling votes to ensure their violent hold on corrupt power for decades.

We cannot forget that Lugo’s candidacy was first opposed by high-ranking religious officials; in fact, the Vatican suspended him a divinis, depriving him of his right to celebrate mass and administer the sacraments, but the impoverished majority clamored for their good shepherd, the “bishop of the poor” as they call him, the only man who would then be able to free them from so much injustice.

To fulfill that mandate, Lugo headed the Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC), made up of a large number of movements and parties, including the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA), the Christian Democrats, the National Encounter, the País Solidario, the Movement Toward Socialism Party (P-MAS), the Tekojoja Movement, the National and Popular Bloc, the National Citizens’ Resistance Movement, and the Republican Force Movement. He also had to take as his vice president Federico Franco of the PLRA, the only opposition party permitted during the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. Now, Franco has publicly stated that he is “prepared” to replace Lugo if the corrupt right-wing’s desire to remove him from power is fulfilled.

It is no coincidence that after the coup d’état perpetrated — with the support and cynical complicity of the U.S. government — against Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya, the right-wing oligarchic and corporate forces of Paraguay are ready to reenact the same script written by Washington, above all because the former bishop has expressed his intention of entering the ALBA bloc (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), a mechanism of integration, solidarity and cooperation that has yanki right-wing extremists losing sleep.

Outside of that, President Fernando Lugo’s administration has focused on guaranteeing free and high-quality public services such as health and education; initiating a process of closing down and expelling U.S. military bases from Paraguayan territory; and accepting popular demands to begin a constitutional reform, in order to instigate its social project of change.

Let us not be fooled. Lugo’s administration has not been characterized by rapid decisions directed at dismantling the old and corrupt political apparatus of the Paraguayan state, or by the radicalization of its campaign platform.

As was the case in Honduras, a simple tweak of the establishment raises the hackles of the oligarchy and traditional political parties, which are not willing to cede one inch on their privileges and interests, and far less anger their powerful northern neighbor by defending national sovereignty and self-determination.

It is in that context that some of the measures passed by Lugo’s administration have irritated them. We are referring, for example, to the registration of agricultural properties, which in Paraguay’s case is controlled at gunpoint by the hired thugs of Paraguayan and Brazilian landowners who took over those lands through illegal means and forcible eviction, in most cases.

Just this past September, the president canceled the military exercises carried out by 500 U.S. soldiers and an equal number of Paraguayan ones, under the euphemistic name of “New Horizons.”

Lugo himself said at the time that it would not be prudent to engage in such military exercises because they could be questioned by the “fraternal countries of MERCOSUR,” given that regional opposition to the expansion and establishment of seven U.S. military bases in Colombia is reaching confrontation point.

Rapidly, the U.S. ambassador in Asunción, Liliana Halladle, “regretted” the Paraguayan administration’s decision, and in a tone of warning, expressed her “hope” that the measure would not affect other programs that the powerful northern neighbor maintains with the country. Typical yanki coercion.

Those events, however, were sufficient to have provoked diverse anti-Lugo alternatives cooked up during the year by Paraguay’s right-wing and fascist forces, which were not buried with the dictator Stroessner. All of these plots are aimed at overthrowing him, whether by force or by an “institutional” coup via the legislative branch, currently controlled by the Liberal, Colorado and “ethical” Colorado forces of retired General Lino Oviedo.

These maneuvers have not gone unnoticed by the former bishop, who has continually exposed them in the national and international media, and has even informed the accredited diplomatic corps in the country: “There have been numerous attempted coups d’état against me since I took office.”

As the year ends, the anti-Lugo campaigns could be summed up into three, but they all conceal the need of the right-wing forces to remove him from power because they are afraid of him intensifying his government’s program with the support of the social movements. We are referring the kidnapping of rancher Fidel Zavala, which was used as a pretext by the old civilian and military oligarchy to blame a alleged guerrilla force known as “The Paraguayan People’s Army,” and to claim that the government is doing nothing to stop it.

In a similar sense, a supposed corruption case is being constructed within the Legislature against Lugo for purchasing land to hand over to campesino families, and also, there is a scandal over linked cases of paternity, with the goal of discrediting him. It is worth remembering that in the Paraguayan Senate, only two of the 45 senators would vote in favor of the president, and a similar figure in the Chamber of Deputies, giving the rightists sufficient votes to remove him from power via a political trial.

Nevertheless, given this scenario of confrontation, President Lugo has called upon the parties of the left to coordinate a new political bloc not only to support the government, but more importantly, to support its programs benefiting the poor. According to national observers, this new alliance has been joined by campesino organizations with the aim of closing ranks and nipping in the bud plots to put the president on political trial.

It is a question of creating a resistance front, the only guarantee for struggling against the de facto powers that have gone into operation, encouraged by the impunity with which the same forces, with Washington’s support, acted and are acting in Honduras.

Next year will be a decisive one in Paraguay. There, the mists have cleared and the rightists are disposed to removing Fernando Lugo from power, but not just him: everything that represents a change from the old, corrupt political model that guaranteed them their privileges and benefits for more than six decades. •

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