This is what democracy looks like: a coup in Paraguay and genetically modified cotton

By 02 July, 2012

Left-right divides in Latin American politics run as deep and are as sore as an open wound, gashed by the continuous crossing of bullets and beliefs. The clash is historical but remains painfully pertinent in a continent’s search for justice. Alongside the internal disputes, external factors also contribute to the waging of war, manifested in up-to-date coup d’états, kidnappings, paramilitaries and the operation of media groups that masquerade and toy with events to an end as punctual and as sharp as that of a snipers rifle. Ideology, then, has little motive to nest in the swaying cradle of worldwide consensus. Left-right divides have been forged for a reason.

The recent coup in Paraguay comes to the forefront of this battle as “an innovative form of removing a president”, as explained disparagingly by North American lawyer and journalist Eva Golinga, and is another telling display of why the violent disaccord in the left-right political axis fails to be ironed out. Democratically-elected President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was removed from his presidency and replaced by his vice-president Federico Franco after a 24 hour-long political trial, a trial without substantial evidence or lawyers, that commenced the Thursday morning of June 21st, punctually at 8 am, as if it were but another dutiful meeting to tick off a government’s to-do list.

The coup, orchestrated internally, took place as smoothly as would precede any premeditated trial and by the Friday, Lugo was already performing the ceremony of his resignation before the baffled glares of both the Paraguayans and the international community. Considering the minimal leverage Lugo had in parliament and the little he could command, with 39 out of the 43 senators standing against him, and with only 9 months left of his presidency after which constitutionally he would have to stand down anyway, the urgency of the coup seemed both exaggerated and insulting to the great majority of Paraguayans who continued to support a president sympathetic to widespread demands such as nationalisation of resources, land reforms and the peasant movement.

The calling for Lugo’s forced resignation presented its case on the basis that the president was failing to resolve the internal problems of the country and took as momentum the fatal confrontation this past June 15th between farmers and policemen on a hacienda north of the country, resulting in 17 deaths. However, a closer look at the events unravels a far more cynical perspective other than an unfortunate incident mishandled by government. Essentially, it reveals how internal politics continues to be tempered by external factors, either discreetly or overtly, and how together with right wing Latin American groups, amidst their calls for union and democracy, these factors are often behind the very encroaching of said notions.

It is no longer ironic, for example, that US sponsored policies and NGOs such as the apparently good-natured Solidarity Centre in Bogotá or continental-wide USAID work to disrupt democracy instead of promoting peace by dividing workers unions or infiltrating political movements. Neither is it a secret that the string of recent coups in Latin America, such as in Venezuela in 2002, Haiti in 2004, Bolivia in 2008, Honduras in 2009, Ecuador in 2010 and now Paraguay in 2012 are the result of said international teaming. It is worth noting that the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela refuse to recognise the new Paraguayan government and have recalled their ambassadors, whilst Chile, Colombia and Mexico have been somewhat reticent in their criticism towards the recent turn of events. The latter three are right wing governments entertaining very open and close ties with the United States.

Fernando Lugo, democratically voted in in 2008 belonged to a new generation of politicians in a country that had been heavily besieged by a series of military dictatorships, most famously that of Alfredo Stroessner, that ended in 1989 after 34 brutal years. Despite his popular support, Lugo never quite managed to inspire unity or establish a stable and consolidated political party, and the Paraguayans in general remained a fractured and multifaceted people, all wanting the same but not knowing how to do it all together. His supporters warned him; “Harness the masses because they are the only ones who want you here!”. The plea was serious; with minimal leverage in congress and a judiciary controlled by the opposition, Lugo had few powerful political allies and an extremely delicate hold over matters of the government.

On June 15th, police forces were sent in by members of the judiciary to evict a group of peasants who had invaded a portion of land belonging to the Curigiati hacienda, a farm that covers over hundreds of thousands of hectares, most of the land barren and unkempt. The territory however was important for the promotion of mass agricultural practices and elite members of business in Paraguay had already invited in transnational companies such as North American bio-technicians Monsanto, with the aim of putting to work a new genetically modified cotton seed, banned by most Health and Environmental institutions. An invasion by discontented farmers and the disputes over land reform would however put a hold on such plans and high court Paraguayan judges have been heard mentioning how they felt obliged to send in the police considering Lugo’s inability to resolve the upsetting matter. However, what comes accross unexpectedly are the results from the autopsies of the deceased policemen. The corpses reveal a precision in the bullet shots evident of the skills of highly trained snipers, untypical of bullets fired in panic by untrained farmers. How the group of peasants came to be infiltrated by the snipers is difficult to say, but the bloodbath appears to have presented itself as a perfect opportunity to blame the president and have him removed from power. Once gone, the peasants would disperse and Monsanto would be able to return.

What now follows for Paraguay is still uncertain. Federico Franco has already commenced his diplomatic rounds, whilst photographs have emerged testifying meetings with Venezuelan right wing politician Leopoldo Lopez, as well as with ex-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, famed for his creation of paramilitary groups and deepening of US presence in Colombia. The rest however are yet to accept Franco’s presidency and the UNASUR union have called emergency meetings amongst South American governments to decide how to proceed. The one conclusion that can be drawn with confidence is that the divides between left and right wing governments are as wide as ever and both sides will continue to strengthen alliances and articulate realms of enmity in order to guarantee their respective governmental victories. Whether the end results are decided by free elections or coup d’états, the real debate lies in whether they are in the defence of a democracy in tune to the will of the majority or in tune to the will of the dominant.

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