Paraguay: Fernando Lugo brought down in “legal” coup d’etat

For a mass independent movement of the workers and peasants to bring down the fake regime

Paraguayan President, Fernando Lugo, was removed from office last week by a vote which took place in the senate for his impeachment, with 39 votes in favour, 2 abstentions and 4 against. This took place in the aftermath of a bloody clash between police forces and landless peasants engaged in an occupation on a forestal reserve. Lugo’s “legal” impeachment comes as Latin America ’s latest example of the forced removal of a President seen as an inconvenience to capitalist interests, following the coup which removed Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, in 2010. Lugo’s removal from power, dubbed a “covered-up coup” by Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, opens up a period of unstable equilibrium, with explosive tensions between the new regime of Federico Franco, and the poor masses who see in Lugo their representative, which have by no means been played out.

Franco, who was vice-President before Lugo’s removal, has come to power representing Paraguay ’s land-owning oligarchy, keen to smash any pretensions of the poor masses that policies which threaten their unequivocal domination can be contemplated. Whether they succeed in consolidating the return of the right to power will depend on the extent to which the poor masses can be mobilised in a struggle to paralyze the Franco regime and overturn the coup and defend the democratic will of the people. In turn, whether the political power of the landlords and multi-nationals can be decisively checked, and the threat of the right lastingly dispelled, depends on the extent to which a struggle can be built for a government which will implement policies to break their dictatorship over the economy and society.

Contradictions of Lugo Presidency

Lugo came to power in 2008, backed by an eclectic coalition of parties, with a margin of 10% over his nearest rival from the Colorado Party. His election was an historic blow to The Colorado Party, the traditional political voice of the ruling class, which governed uninterrupted for 61 years until Lugo ’s election, including during the 35 years of the bloody Stroessner dictatorship. Colorado ruled with an iron fist in order to maintain the parasitic rule of the landlords and imperialists, in a country in which an elite of 2% own over 80% of fertile land, while millions of working and peasant families live in some of the continent’s poorest conditions. Lugo came to power on the basis of pledges to fight for land reform and take measures against the multinationals, particularly in the energy industry. Labelled the “red bishop” (Lugo is a former catholic bishop), he rode to power on the tail end of the wave of movements which had propelled left leaning governments into power in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador etc.

However, there are key elements which differentiate the Paraguayan experience from the processes in Venezuela and Bolivia for example. Lugo was elected as candidate of the Patriotic Alliance for Change, which despite including many political and social organisations of the workers and peasants, was also backed by the Liberal capitalist, Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA), which saw in Lugo’s election an opportunity to occupy positions of political power benefiting from the breaking of Colorado’s monopoly. This party is the very one which Federico Franco leads and which led the charge to remove Lugo ! Upon taking power, franco declared that he “had not agreed with many of Lugo ’s measures”. Indeed, in the last days, Wikileaks documents have shown that as early as 2009, right wing forces were plotting to remove Lugo in an impeachment.

Thus, from the very beginning, the Lugo presidency contained the contradictions which have been exploded in this coup. Lugo ’s method was not based on an independent political struggle of the workers and peasants, but on an uneasy and unsustainable alliance with capitalist elements, hostile to any radical measures to improve the conditions of the majority. This had an inevitable impact on the policies which could be implemented under his Presidency. Lugo was able to force through some important social reforms, including health reforms to allow for the distribution of free medication to millions, subsidies to over 20,000 of Paraguay’s poorest families, and education reforms to provide free meals to public school children thus allowing their parents to send them to be educated. However, at no stage were more far-reaching measures, such as expropriations of land to favour the peasants or nationalisations of key industries, along the lines of those implemented in Venezuela or Bolivia , taken.

This is a consequence of Lugo’s mistaken approach, basing himself on negotiations and alliances with pro-capitalist parties (including the Colorado party) in parliament, rather than on the movements and mobilisations of the working masses to achieve their demands for real change. As the other revolutionary processes in Venezuela and Bolivia, the experience of Left governments is proving in practice the need for a political fight based on a struggle of the workers and peasants, through independent and democratic political organisations armed with a programme to break the power of imperialism and the oligarchs. If decisive anti-capitalist measures are not adopted, a “balancing act” between reforms benefiting the poor and the maintenance of the rule of the multinationals and landlords can only end in the wearing out of the struggle and return of the right wing. In Paraguay , commentators are suggesting that Lugo’s removal is part of the preparations for the right wing to be able to take power again in the 2013 elections in 9 months’ time. Indeed, as an article in El Pais following the coup on 24 June, described as “a miracle” the fact that Lugo had been able to remain in power until now, going on to speculate that: “this miracle can only be explained by assuming that the interests of the landlords were not put into question”.

Peasants’ struggle and occupations

Lugo’s impeachment took place in the aftermath of a bloody episode on the ranch of Curuguaty, about 240 kilometres from the capital, Asuncion . This land, property of a landlord who himself was a key member of the Colorado Party, had been occupied by over 50 landless peasasnts, from the ‘carperos’ movement. This movement, named after the tents which house the occupying farmers, is a key social force behind the Lugo Presidency, and is engaged in thousands of similar occupations throughout the country. It appears that the clash between the carperos and police which took place at Curuguaty, was orchestrated by elements close to the Colorado party and the new regime which placed snipers who fired the first shots, provoking the bloodshed. 17 people, 11 peasants and 6 police were killed. The episode was then seized upon as the trigger to remove Lugo , who was accused by the right-wing of being too close to the carperos and of tolerating their occupations. The public outcry which followed the killings forced the resignation of the Interior Minister, Carlos Filizzola, and the chief of police. However, the Minister, leader of the Partido País Solidario (PPS) who had stepped down, slotted back into his position in the Senate in order to be able to vote and participate in the “legal” coup which removed Lugo .

While clearly a manoeuvre aimed at the social movements and Lugo , this episode again points to the contradictions of the Lugo presidency, seen as close to the peasants’ struggles but failing to execute a determined struggle in their interests. If Lugo had fought for a radical land reform, legalising the carperos’ occupations and organising a re-distribution of the land, the power of the landlords’ parties would be seriously undermined, and any ensuing threat to the government could be resisted through the mobilisation of the masses, as took place in Venezuela in response to the attempted coup of 2002. These lessons must be discussed and learned for the fight to overturn the right wing’s latest anti-democratic attack.

International reaction

The announcement of Lugo ’s removal was received with general condemnation by the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), which described it as a “sultry act”. The governments of Venezuela , Bolivia , Ecuador and Brazil announced that they would not recognise the new government and Brazil even called for Paraguay ’s expulsion from UNASUR. The Argentinean government of Cristina Fernandez Kirchner also denounced the move, in a new expression of her radical credentials and continental role, following the partial nationalisation of the Spanish oil company YPF, and heightened conflictive tone over the Malvinas. She called Lugo ’s removal a coup and refused to give it any legitimacy, announcing the immediate withdrawal of the Argentinian embassy until “democratic order is re-established”. The Chavez government has withdrawn all oil imports to Paraguay as a means of mounting the pressure (Venezuelan imports account for over 30% of Paraguayan oil use).

The Organisation of American Status (OEA) issued an ambiguous statement, declaring “respect for the process” of the political move against Lugo . The debate around this declaration saw the governments of Nicaragua , Bolivia and Venezuela denounce the process as a “covered up coup”. Cuba ’s Raul Castro responded: “the coup d’etat has returned to Latin America , only now in a hidden form”. Indeed, these developments come as a chilling reminder to the people of Latin America (and beyond) of the willingness of the ruling capitalist elites to disregard “normal democratic” procedure in their determination to impose an agenda of economic misery on the majority of the world’s population.

Mobilise to bring down the regime and establish workers’ and peasants’ democracy

Following his impeachment, Lugo made the fatal mistake of accepting it initially on “legal grounds”. Whilst he has partially corrected this, establishing an ‘alternative cabinet’ to that led by Franco this week, the momentum of the protests currently taking place against the coup must be used to launch a struggle from below to impose the democratic will of the people, over-turning the impeachment. The evening of Lugo ’s impeachment saw tens of thousands take to the streets, unprecedentedly coming from all over Paraguay to the capital, many of them poor peasants who had travelled at great expense. These protests were brutally repressed, as was the case following the fall of Zelaya in Honduras , when protests were crushed by the regime in the hope that in the coming period the absence of a lead would mean that protests would die down.

However, protests have continued over the past days in Asunción, and it seems like this, along with the increasing international isolation of the Franco regime, has inspired Lugo to mount something of a fight against the coup. It is not certain whether or not Lugo is poised to stand in new elections, should they take place in 2013 as planned. However, the Paraguayan workers and poor cannot depend on the outcome of a capitalist-led and potentially rigged electoral process, in order to resist the offensive of the Franco regime. In Honduras , the right wing managed to see off the struggle against the coup through the organisation of corrupt and rigged elections to put a puppet leader in power. An organised movement to defeat the coup should have the aim of organising genuinely democratic elections, controlled by organisations of the poor masses, to a national assembly, with the aim of electing a government of workers and peasants, based on revolutionary socialist policies, as the only way of decisively ridding the country of the menace of capitalism and landlordism.

We call for:

• That the democratic will of the Paraguayan people who elected Fernando Lugo as President is respected

• For an end to the brutal repression of the Franco government! Down with the new regime!

• That the workers and poor organise to bring down the farse which has been established in Paraguay, and struggle to organise genuinely democratic elections to elect a government of workers and peasants

• For a united struggle of the Latin American masses against coups and attacks on democracy! For solidarity protests internationally at Paraguayan embassies etc

• For workers’ and peasants’ governments to implement revolutionary socialist policies and take the wealth and resources into democratic public ownership as the basis for a new socialist society in Paraguay, and throughout Latin America

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