"Palace coup d’état" in Paraguay. The masses must mobilise against the return of the oligarchs!

The President of Paraguay, Lugo, has been impeached and replaced by his deputy Franco from the Liberal Party. The reason why the oligarchy has moved against him is that despite his shortcomings and his attempts to conciliate, the timid reforms he introduced and the way his election encouraged the workers' and peasants' movement, had become intolerable for the ruling class. 

On June 15 an orchestrated clash between peasants and the police left 17 people dead in Curuguaty (Paraguay). The following day Paraguay's President named a new interior minister and national police chief. This clash followed a month of land occupation by peasants. The removal of the government ministers and the 17 deaths have been the excuse for the ruling class to carry out a “palace coup” against the President Lugo.

The land occupied by the peasants was owned by Blas Riquelme, a businessman and politician active in the Colorado Party, the main bourgeois party and one of the pillars of the ruling class in the country. The Colorado Party’s leader  and a potential presidential candidate in the 2013 elections Horacio Cartes, has led the movement to impeach Lugo. The use of this “legal” and “constitutional” technique to oust the President is a copy cat method of what the oligarchs did in Honduras three years ago.

In the run-up to the coup, a mass movement of land occupations was taking place. The “tent people” (carperos), those landless peasants that take land in a similar fashion to the MST in Brazil, had defended themselves against an attack by sharp shooters sent to cause an incident so the Colorado party and its long standing allies from the Liberals could use it as the excuse for the impeachment. 

Jose Rodriguez, the leader of the "tent people", told Radio Nacional that the peasants were on public land that Riquelme had acquired illegally. The ruling class, through the Colorado Party and their members in the Senate, do not care much about the legality or illegality of land occupation, they have been speculating of ousting Lugo almost since he was elected.

In the impeachment procedure, 39 Senators voted in favour of ousting President Lugo from office, four voted against, and two were absent. While Mr. Lugo accepted the decision of the Senate, he described his removal as an “express coup d’état”.  In fact, left-wing governments in Latin America have already begun referring to the Lugo impeachment as a coup, drawing comparisons to the 2009 overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. In the case of Mr. Zelaya, however, there was never an impeachment process. (coha

iglesia francoCatholic hierarchy supports FrancoLater on Lugo appeared on national television saying that he would not resign but shortly afterwards Vice-President Federico Franco was sworn in as president and Lugo backed down. He will serve the remainder of Mr Lugo's five-year term, which ends in August 2013. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-18553813 ). All of the traditional parties of the ruling class, the hierarchy of the Church (which hated Lugo even more precisely because he was a former priest), the mass media, the land owners and capitalists, have all rallied in support of Franco's appeal for "national unity". The capitulation of Lugo on legalities is a big mistake on his part. He should have resisted as Zelaya did resist in Honduras against the coup. Lugo has called this a "fast track coup d'etat". But the main problem is that he has had a track record of vacillations and doubts. He was elected by a social coalition for change and to stop the abuses of the agricultural multinationals and this has not happened.

The ultimate cause of this conflict lies in Paraguay’s historic unequal land distribution, a trend that the military dictator Alfredo Stroessner aggravated during his 35-year rule. Stroessner frequently doled out massive parcels of land to military officials, civilian supporters, and foreign corporations while giving smaller lots to local Colorado Party caciques (local political bosses closely related to the landowners) so as to build grassroots support for the party in the countryside. Stroessner repeatedly decrees enacted which  forcefully evicted peasants (campesinos), many of whom had resided on the land for years without formal title.

Under the Colorado Party leadership, wealthy Paraguayans and foreign multinational such as Cargill and Monsanto had illegally acquired over 64 percent of their lands through government handouts or simply by seizing the land from campesinos. Many campesinos, therefore, have been occupying the land handed out by the government during this period, because technically still belongs to the state, and have undertaken a protracted fight to retake their tracts of land, resulting in frequent human rights abuses by the Colorado Party leadership against the indigenous population that are the bulk of the landless peasants. These actions by the landless peasants were not supported by the Government as they should have.

Lugo led a coalition for change of small left organisations, social movements, and trade unions with the support of the liberal party (Partido Liberal Radical Autentico, PLRA), but instead of leaning upon the poor and exploited to carry out a land reform and to take power out of the soya multinationals he made concessions to the Liberal and Colorado parties, leaving them a majority in the Chamber and therefore the possibility of vetoing his policies. Furthermore, he never tried to mobilise the millions of exploited to change this parliamentary balance of forces which in the end he paid for with this remvoal from office. The real crime is that the new regime will not care about his democratic credentials and will  make the people pay for daring trying to take power out of the hands of the oligarchs.

When Lugo was elected, 2 percent of the population controlled over 77 percent of the fertile land while small farmers, about 40 percent of the population, owned merely 5 percent of all arable farmland. This growing inequality has led to significant pressure from campesinos over land regulation and the questionable ownership of at least 30% of the land. For landless peasants, workers and unemployed youth the election of Lugo, which took place because of their mobilisation and the wave of change that swept through Latin America, was the chance to get the land back. Also for key workers in the country, namely those working in electricity production, it meant the possibility of stopping the privatisation of the important water and electricity utilities. 

Today, unemployment stands at 6.4% and underemployed around 25%. A third of workers work in the informal economy and another in companies where there is no right to join a trade union. 64% of all Paraguayan workers earn less than the minimum wage.

The police-campesino clash in Curuguaty highlights the Lugo administration’s failure: its inability to protect and provide basic social rights for the Paraguayan masses. Moreover, the political coup led by the Colorado Party in alliance with the Liberals not only puts into question the weak democratic legitimacy of Paraguay, but also shows the nature of the ruling class that has prevented any agrarian reforms as well as further distanced the political process from the majority of Paraguayans. These so-call democrats do not care about democracy when their interests are in ‘danger’.

Legal tricks

The Constitution of Paraguay, in article 225, allows for the President to be politically impeached ‘for misuse of his post’, for crimes committed during his mandate or for common crimes. The accusation must be presented by the Chamber of deputies with two thirds majority support. The parliamentary weakness of Lugo and his alliance with the second bourgeois party (Liberal) has proven to be a big mistake.

What both the Colorado and Liberal parties really detest of Lugo’s policies is that he has embodied the mood for revolutionary change in Paraguayan society. The accusations for his impeachment go back to 2009 when he ‘authorised’ a gathering of socialist youth in an army barracks, he is also accused of encouraging land occupation. (http://elparroquianoultimahora.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/conozca-los-cinco-puntos-en-los-que-se.html?spref=fb )

Thousands of people have been demonstrating outside of the Senate to support Lugo after the vote and violent clashes between demonstrators and  police have taken place. The resistance is starting to be organised, although is too early to say what will happen. It will depend very much on the level of organisation of the revolutionaries forces, the trade unions and the peasants.

The campaign against Lugo had started several months after he was sworn in with a “sexual” scandal because as a former priest he had children, but in the last few months an increase in social mobilisations and anecdotal things such as the formal legalisation of the Paraguayan communist party were too much to cope with for the oligarchs and they decided to make a move.

In 2009 in the pages of In Defence of Marxism we wrote: "In the last few weeks, the clashes with the Judiciary and the Congress have become even harsher. Lugo must choose. The workers and peasants who support him do so on the basis of the fulfilment of their aspirations. But if he does not respond to the demands of the people, a new, more difficult situation will open up." We ended up the article saying: "Lugo must remove all ministers who were part of previous governments and implement the demands of the people, particularly the Agrarian Reform." These words have unfortunately come true, but the struggle has not finished.

The Lugo government was sworn in in August 2008 with a mandate for change. Despite the dubious parliamentary alliance with the Liberal party, in the last instance, the events in Paraguay show that there is no middle road. A government is either with the oppressed, the workers and unemployed, the landless peasants... or it stands with the bourgeoisie and the imperialists. In fact anyone who tries a ‘third way’ is usually deposed by the reactionary forces because of its weakness.

What next for the masses?

The imperialists and the national oligarchs do not feel strong enough to resort the direct use of the force so they try all sorts of legal and paralegal methods to destabilise left leaning Governments.  In Venezuela, the removal of Chavez, tried to create a legal vacuum that was to be filled by a “civilian” Government a tactic that had worked in Haiti. In Honduras, the so-called illegality of a popular consultation was the excuse. In Ecuador the police tried to depose Correa because of ‘social unrest’ and in Paraguay it is a legal impeachment. The underlying reasons are the same. A Marxist analysis shows us that we should not be fooled by legal issues when the question of power is posed.

The victory or the defeat of this coup lies in the reaction of the masses in Paraguay and the mobilisation of the revolutionary forces in the neighbourhood countries, in Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.

The Union of South American Nations has sent an urgent mission of foreign ministers to Paraguay to "ensure the right to defend democracy". Ecuador's President Rafael Correa warned that the regional block could invoke its "democracy clause" to sever ties with Paraguay and even close its borders if Mr Lugo is not tried according to "due process". This should encourage the resistance but the key factors are the forces in Paraguay. We have said that no ‘intergovernmental’ organisation can take the place of the organised strength of the workers and peasants. 

The creation of a Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) based on the Frente Guasú (which was the organisation that supported Lugo in 2008 and made him winner of the elections) is a step in the right direction. The coup Government of Franco must be overthrown by popular mobilisation. Internationally demonstrations of support for the Paraguayan Front for Democracy must be organised in front of all embassies, trade unions and workers organisations should condemn the coup.

The Guasú Front, the Unitarian Space (Espacio Unitario – Congreso Popular, representing the socialist forces) the trade union confederations like the CUT and the peasants' organisations must create resistance committees of the FDD in every village and neighbourhood. These committees must bring back the democratically elected government and carry through the land reform promised by Lugo as well as all the social and democratic reforms that are pending since 2008. Workers, peasants, students, the unemployed know fine well that the small reforms of Lugo (some education improvements and benefits for a living wage in the form of food tickets) will be abolished by the coup regime. The masses must carry out the program that Lugo was unable to implement. A general strike must be organised immediately to block the country and self defence committees must be established!

Down with Franco’s Government!

The masses must bring back democracy to Paraguay!