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3 September 2008

Plotting in Paraguay

This week’s news from Paraguay shows that the violent right in Latin America must really pull up its

By Kenzie Eliasen

Those who aim to keep the indigenous peoples down, as has been the case for the past 500 years; to steal common land meant for peasants and smallholders; to keep a big pool of unemployed so that wages are depressed; to maintain a good flow of profits to foreign shareholders who own strategic assets; to contract cheap domestic service of a sort that has become a memory even among the richest European families and in general to preserve the sacred heritage of those whom George W. Bush calls “the haves and the have-mores” have been showing signs of confusion and hesitation recently.

They won’t keep their status for much longer if they display such amateurishness. (My personal opinion is that, given the continent-wide desire from change they won’t keep that status whatever they do but that’s beside the point for the purpose of this short essay.)

Take the events this week in Asunción. A former Catholic bishop formally took over the presidency last month after a clean election demonstrated he was by a long way the most popular political figure in the country. Fernando Lugo had been wearing the presidential sash for hardly more than a fortnight when the more cack-handed members of the establishment decided they would have an armed coup!!!

One of them, Nicanor Duarte Frutos was president of Paraguay till 15 August and brandished the tattered banner of the Colorado Party which, despite its murderous divisions had held power uninterruptedly for 61 years – rather longer than the Chinese Communist Party.

Though he regarded himself as a pillar of “the Free World” he was, according to Lugo, a leading plotter.

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Among his Sancho Panzas were Luis Oviedo, a sad former general down on his luck who tried a coup in 1999 and after it failed had to flee abroad; the president of the Senate; the attorney-general and the president of the Electoral Court.

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On Sunday this little group called in General Máximo Díaz, the officer who is the official link between the armed forces and the parliament, to a meeting at Oviedo’s house to get his views about the best way of ousting President Lugo. General Díaz went straight to the armed forces commander and told him what the plan was.

On Monday morning the President, backed by his ministers and the senior officers, publicly blew the little plot wide open putting Duarte and Oviedo to public ridicule. Most of the presidents in Latin America – even the Álvaro Uribe, the Colombian leader who didn’t bother to attend Lugo’s inauguration last month – have expressed their dismay at the move. Lugo’s stock has not gone down, it has gone up.

Sadly for the Colorado Party these events have coincided with the revelation of the latest massive land scandal in Paraguay. Between 1954 and 2003 when the Colorados were in power 7,800,000 hectares of public land, a big chunk of the total area of Paraguay which was supposed to have been distributed to landless peasants, was parcelled out illegally.

Worse, 8,000 of those hectares went to Anastasio Somoza, the former Nicaraguan dictator who had taken refuge with his buddy Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay from the Sandinista government. The scandal will turn out to be the Paraguayan version of the Enron and rotten mortgage swindles in the US.

The Paraguayan Colorados, obviously unfamiliar with the idea they can no longer do what they like, have, it seems, been committing the imprudence of taking council from their neighbours across the border in the racist, anti-government, self-appointed comités cívicos in Bolivia who are in exactly the same position that they are.

Neither group has pondered on the fate of fellow plotters in Venezuela who overthrew the elected government of President Chávez for all of 48 hours, way back in 2002 before they themselves were overthrown by popular anger.

All three groups of men – they are mostly men – have little or no democratic credentials and are faced with reformist governments keen to get rid of the feudalism that has passed for genuine government for generations.

All have a profound dislike and fear of the poor majority and of the indigenous peoples whose lands their predecessors were taking over until comparatively recently. None has had any compunction in flaunting its racism. All have been given the raspberry by the international community. They’ll have to be more intelligent in pursuing their aims at their next opportunity. If, that is, they get a next opportunity.