Paraguay’s President Lugo removed – June 2012

Paraguay’s President Lugo removed – June 2012

On 21 June 2012, Paraguay’s reactionary Chamber of Deputies voted 76-1 to impeach President Fernando Lugo. The Senate confirmed this with a 39-4 vote the following day.

This ‘constitutional coup’, reminiscent of the removal of President Zelaya in Honduras in 2009, has been condemned across South America. Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba refuse to recognise the change and Venezuela will cease providing oil.Brazil and Argentina have called their ambassadors home and Uruguay has expressed concern. On 25 June, the Mercosur trade bloc suspended Paraguay from taking part in a summit in Argentina.

Despite poor health, Lugo -fought back, saying he will attend the summit and hand over the rotating presidency of  UNASUR to Peru next week, months before it is due to switch in November. His former cabinet ministers have announced the establishment of a parallel government to continue Lugo's policies.

The basis of this crisis

Paraguay is one of the most unequal societies in the world, where 85% of the land (30 million hectares) is held by 2% of owners.  Tax is 13% of GDP, but 60% of this is from VAT, hitting ordinary people not capitalists. Landowners pay nothing. The election of Lugo, a former bishop,  in August 2008 had seemed to open the door to greater political say by the poor, which ran counter to the interests of the rich and their imperialist backers. Lugo struggled to build on his popular support and push his more liberal agenda through a profoundly conservative Congress. The right blocked entry into Mercosur. Agrarian reform got nowhere and sections of the rural poor moved to take matters into their own hands.

Unable to consolidate popular support through legislative initiatives over the last 4 years, Lugo was in no position to call upon mass support during his hurried and artificial removal.  The Liberal Party supported the Colorado Party, its long standing rival, in a motion impeaching Lugo. on overtly political charges. He was accused of 5 charges of mismanagement of office:

  • the ‘mismanagement’ of a militarised police attack against 150 landless peasants that took place on forest land previously seized from the state by a wealthy landowner in Curuguaty;
  • improperly allowing supporters to hold a political meeting in an army base in 2009
  • allowing some 3,000 squatters to illegally invade a large Brazilian-owned soybean farm
  • failing to capture members of a guerrilla group, and signing an international protocol without properly submitting it to Congress for approval.

On 15 June in Curuguaty, armed police attacked landless peasants demanding land to live on. The armed police were part of the Special Operations Group (GEO), the majority of whom were trained in Colombia for ‘counter-insurgency’ purposes. The resultant 17 deaths provided an excuse to get rid of Lugo and close down this opening. Lugo’s congressional alliance included the aggressive Authentic Radical Liberal Party, which now objected to its exclusion from the executive’s response to farm invasions by landless protesters and which complained about a failed army offensive against the Paraguayan People’s Army, or EPP, the 3 main leaders of which remain active.

Lugo’s impeachment proved possible with the growing disenchantment of hundreds of thousands of poor farmers and the mixture of progressive urban groups who had formed the president’s political base. They now failed to rally sufficiently to his support. Lugo’s Vice President Federico Franco of the Liberal party and a critic of Lugo, now temporarily sworn in as President, is ineligible to stand in the coming 2013 elections. Lugo immediately called on his supporters to remain peaceful but argued that national and international protests could lead Paraguayan lawmakers to reverse the impeachment. There is currently no other political leadership to stand in the way of a return to an executive power of open reaction.

US imperialism in Paraguay

Lugo was not the leader of an independent political party. He brought together a coalition of left politicians, ‘El Frente Guazú’, which was dependent on the Liberal Party for any legislative move. He was constantly been forced to compromise with or concede to the demands of the propertied classes. Lugo was responsible for the passing of an Anti-Terrorist Law in 2010, proposed by US  imperialism, which allowed the training of US troops and other ‘civilians’ (Iniciativa Zona Norte) in the north of Paraguay’s Eastern Region.

In 2011 the Minister of Agriculture illegally permitted the planting of Monsanto’s genetically modified cotton, Bollgard BT. Before this, Monsanto had campaigned through the producers’ association against the National Service for the Quality and Health of Crops and Seed (SENAVE) because it had not permitted commercial use of this ‘transgenic’ crop throughout Paraguay. They were preparing a major demonstration for 25 June with the support of Grupo Zuccolillo, publishers of the daily ABC Color.  Zuccolillo is president of the Inter American Press Society. His group is the main partner of the US giant agro-business Cargill in Paraguay.

SENAVE’s Miguel Lovera had refused to register Bollgard BT because it lacked legally-required approval from the Ministry of Health and the Secretary of the Environment. The obliging Agriculture Minister simply bypassed it, while ABC Color had started a campaign on 8 June accusing him of corruption, and for good measure made similar accusations against Ministers of Health and of the Environment.   Monsanto made $30m last year in Paraguay in seed royalties alone, free of tax, over and above sales revenues.  All soya grown in Paraguay – some seven million tons over three million hectares in 2010 – is genetically modified. A new bio-security law is proposed by the anti-Lugo congress that will effectively allow ‘trans-genetic’ crops free reign in the country, and eliminating the current Bio-security Commission.

US imperialism has every incentive to maintain the standing of its clients in Paraguay. It must extend its extraction of material wealth from the country. With borders on Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, Paraguay has a strategic importance which the US cannot ignore. The manoeuvres which contrived the removal of the popular President Zelaya in Honduras, and the subsequent shocking re-imposition of criminal terror on the population, is now the agenda of the Colorado Party and its multi-millionaire leadership.

Alvaro Michaels