Paraguay: One Year After the Parliamentary Coup Overthrew President Lugo

Javier Rodriguez Roque

June 22 — Paraguay today reached the first anniversary of the destitution of its constitutional president by a Congress dominated by the same traditional parties which, once again, have negotiated a distribution of powers.
By organizing the hasty political trial of President Fernando Lugo in Parliament in order to dismiss him from the office to which he was elected, the Liberal and Colorado parties changed Paraguay’s recent history.
The rupture of the democratic process – which began with the defeat of the lengthy, U.S. backed Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989) – implied for Paraguay a kind of leap into a vacuum, isolating the country internationally.
The pretext for ousting Lugo was the bloody eviction of campesinos in Curuguaty, Canindeyú department, undertaken at the request of large estate owners, which led to the death of 11 farm workers and six law enforcement agents, in circumstances which have not been fully clarified.
The political trial ignored the backdrop of the tragic incident: the unjust ownership of land in Paraguay, where close to 90% of arable land is in the hands of less than 2% of owners, many of them proprietors of huge estates.
This statistical impact is accompanied by 300,000 landless campesinos in miserable living conditions in roadside areas, poverty stricken settlements or subsistence in rustic tents and precarious houses.
Lugo’s removal from office had as witnesses 11 South American foreign ministers who urgently flew to Asunción in an unsuccessful attempt to avert through dialogue what has gone down in history as a parliamentary coup.
International sanctions were not long in coming and Paraguay was suspended from the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), in conjunction with the condemnation of many other Latin American countries. A number of embassies in the region remained without their diplomatic heads, withdrawn to express lack of recognition of the coup government of President Federico Franco, and maintained the posture until a government emerged from elections.
In the wake of national elections, MERCOSUR and UNASUR leaders reached out to the elected government, headed by Horacio Cartes who, during his campaign, confirmed his interest in Paraguay’s immediate return to these regional bodies.
However, the urgent mobilization of right-wing sectors closely involved in the coup against Lugo, and exposed pressure from large national and foreign economic interests would once more seem to have placed Paraguay at a dead end.
The most conservative groups are talking of distancing the country from its natural environment to seek its fortune in Asian markets on its own account, plus an unlimited opening to the known voracity of transnationals based in the United States and other centers of power.
Warnings from left sectors recall the positive regional environment which always welcomed the Paraguayan economy and the limitations imposed on its commercial interests by its landlocked nature.
In the internal context, the new Colorado and Liberal pact has been denounced as the preamble to damaging measures for Paraguay’s poor, standing at close to 50% of the population, and anticipated attacks on progressive sectors.
This is the current panorama one year after the episode of June 22, 2012, which represented a setback for democracy in Paraguay.

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