July 2012        


Paraguay: return of the mafia state

The long dictatorship of Stroessner in Paraguay was described as a mafia state, in the sense that the state actually was the mafia, along with the governing Colorado Party. Stroessner’s brutal regime was accepted as a staunch ally of the United States and co-operated in “Operation Condor,” organised by Henry Kissinger, which installed fascist regimes throughout the southern part of the continent.
     Even after Stroessner was deposed in 1989 the Colorado mafia state continued, although wearing a democratic mask. The principal victim of this mafia state was the peasantry, who suffered the systematic robbery of their land throughout the sixty-four years of its rule. By 2008, 85 per cent of the land was in the hands of 2 per cent of the population. The ownership of the land was and remains the principal social and political issue in Paraguay.
     The big landowners have contracted with transnational corporations, such as Cargill and Monsanto, to cultivate genetically modified crops, especially soya and cotton. This industrialised monoculture has driven even more peasants into destitution, either in the countryside or in the slums of the cities. It also poisons the land, the water, and the air.
     The Colorado Party was defeated for the first time in the presidential election in 2008, by a coalition of political parties and social organisations known as the Frente Guasú, led by the ex-bishop Fernando Lugo. Promising land reforms and social justice, he had the support of the peasants and the poor in general, and his election lifted the hopes of the people. Delivering on these promises once elected was another matter.
     Only eighteen days into his presidency Lugo denounced a plot to overthrow him by force. His position was not very strong. The Authentic Radical Liberal Party, which had participated in his campaign and was able to nominate Federico Franco as vice-president, proved a very unreliable ally. This party had acted as the tolerated opposition to the Colorados for decades.
     Soon Franco was engaged in discussions with the US ambassador about how to get rid of Lugo, as reported by Wikileaks. With the defection of the liberals, the right had a majority in the Congress. The president sought to appease them, rather than to confront them, but they were not to be appeased: they wanted rid of him.
     The Lugo government disappointed many of its supporters. Not only did the land reforms not happen but the state continued to repress the peasants’ organisations in their struggle for the land. Under pressure from the Congress and business interests, the government drifted further to the right.
     Why then was there a coup against Lugo? According to the Argentine commentator Mempo Guardinelli, “even though timidly, and not without contradictions and backward steps, Lugo’s government came to mean a significant change for the Paraguayan people, oppressed for decades by atrocious dictatorships and pervasive violence. The coup organisers sought to overthrow the democratic government because of its virtues, not for its faults.”
     The agribusiness interests still saw Lugo as an obstacle to their plans, described by the Paraguayan economist Idilio Mendez Grimaldi as “criminalising all the peasant organisations, to push the peasants into abandoning the countryside to the exclusive use of agribusiness. It is a slow process of removing the peasantry from the Paraguayan countryside.”
     The preparation of the coup d’état followed a familiar, though shocking, pattern. In the district of Curuguaty on 15 June a group of peasants were occupying land stolen in Stroessner’s time and given to one of his cronies, Blas Riquelme, who had amassed a huge fortune and 70,000 hectares of land in the locality. They were confronted by the Special Operations Group of the police force.
     The police were fired on from a distance; and whoever fired on them were highly trained and possessed modern weapons. Six policemen were killed. The police then opened fire on the peasants, killing eleven and wounding many more.
     A group of heavily armed men had been seen in the vicinity before, but none of the local people knew anything about them. They could have been associated with the landowner, the coup plotters, the CIA, or all three. Maybe not, but it stinks.
     As the Paraguayan Communist Party says, “the manoeuvre is directed by the darkest and most rotten elements in Paraguayan politics; it is nothing strange for them to ignore due process with a guarantee of a fair judgement.”
     In any event, Lugo’s enemies in the Congress were able to react with amazing speed. They accused the president of supporting the land occupation and held him responsible for the ambush on the police. They gave him two hours to reply.
     The Congress then deposed President Lugo and appointed Vice-President Franco in his place. There was no due process, nor was there a proper inquiry into the events in Curuguaty. Indeed one of Franco’s first acts was to cancel an inquiry ordered by Lugo.
     The coup was met by a wave of popular protest in all parts of the country, in the cities and in the countryside—unreported, needless to say, in the bourgeois press. A great crowd gathered at the public television station in Asunción, the capital city, whose “open microphone” of speeches and music was relayed by Telesur, the international Latin American station.
     Throughout the country, the people reject the Franco regime, showing a strength of organisation and determination that perhaps Lugo could have called on earlier.
     The countries of Latin America have rejected the coup. Paraguay has been suspended from Mercosur (the South American common market) and Unasur (the Union of South American States), and the coup has also been condemned by SICA (the organisation of Central American States). Canada, Spain, Germany and the Vatican have recognised the new regime. The United States is “investigating,” as if it had nothing to do with it.
     The coups in Honduras and Paraguay are part of a counter-offensive by US imperialism, in alliance with the Latin American ultra-right business and landowning class, against the great popular movements for genuine independence and social progress that have swept through the entire continent in recent years. Lugo’s government was seen as the weakest and most vulnerable.
     The coup shows once again that the United States is not too picky about what allies it chooses—jihadists or mafiosi—in defending or enforcing its interests, of whom the heirs of Stroessner are among the most despicable.

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