The scenario on June 22 in Asuncion, Paraguay was like a case of deja vu. President Fernando Lugo, a leftist president, was deposed by an impeachment and removal from office engineered by his political opponents in the Paraguayan legislature. In June 2009, another leftist Latin American leader, Manuel Zelaya, was removed by the U.S.-trained and supervised Honduran military at gunpoint under the claimed authority of the Honduran Supreme Court acting on orders from the Honduran Congress. In both cases the United States acquiesced to the new political realities brought about by constitutional «soft»coups and it quickly recognized the accession to power in Paraguay by Lugo’s opponent, Vice President Federico Franco just as it had the Honduran junta led by Roberto Micheletti.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who is married to arch-neoconservative and Israel supporter Robert Kagan, one of the chief architects of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, refused to call the Paraguayan Congress’s rapid impeachment and the Senate’s conviction and removal of Lugo a coup. The right-wing governments of Canada, Spain, and Germany quickly recognized the Franco government even as Latin American nations moved to isolate it diplomatically and economically.
The Obama administration has put a «civilian» imprimatur on America’s coups in Latin America, opting to involve governmental branches, such as legislatures and courts, to carry out its covert operations in the Western Hemisphere. Just as drone attacks and targeted assassinations have become a hallmark of the Obama doctrine, for Latin America the internally-launched «autogolpe,» or self coup by government insiders, is preferable to ordering tanks on to the streets, dissolving parliament and the Supreme Court, and turning over power to a military junta of generals and colonels.
Latin American nations now recognize the core of the Obama doctrine for putting one of its loyalists in power and ousting a leader not favorable to Washington’s policies – if the legislative and judicial branches of a government can be used to «constitutionally» eject an executive from power, the United States will recognize the change as constitutional and in keeping with the «democratic process.»
Honduras, and, now, Paraguay serve as stark examples of the Obama doctrine in practice.
As was the case with Zelaya in Honduras, Lugo took on the vested elite and wealthy landowners in Paraguay. After Paraguay’s legislature, which represents the ruling class that exercised absolute power during three decades of rule by military strongman General Alfredo Stroessner, ousted Lugo, Paraguay’s government shifted from «center-left» to «center-right.»
One of the first states to recognize the Franco regime was the Vatican. Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, was a burr in the saddle of Pope Benedict XVI, primarily because of Lugo’s adherence to Marxist-based liberation theology, which emphasizes the plight of the poor and landless peasants over the interests of the super-wealthy oligarchies that had relied during the Cold War on military juntas installed largely by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to protect their interests.
Lugo’s Liberal Party allies bristled at the president’s failure to respond to the invasion of farms owned by wealthy landowners by landless peasants. The bourgeois conservative and thoroughly misnamed Authentic Radical Liberal Party, of which Franco is a member, formed an ad hoc congressional coalition with the fascist Colorado Party, long dominated by Stroessner, to depose Lugo through a lightning-fast impeachment and removal by the Congress.
A June 15 gun battle in Curuguaty in Canindeyu department between landless peasants and police, the latter acting on behalf of elite landowners, resulted in 17 deaths, including six police officers, and provided a catalyst for Congress to move against Lugo. Some 100 families had occupied the land of a wealthy Colorado Party supporter. The landless campesinos charged that the land had been illegally seized during the Stroessner dictatorship and re-distributed to his political cronies. The National Federation of Campesinos of Paraguay claims that 80 percent of usable farmland in Paraguay is owned by the upper one percent of all Paraguyans. The land occupied by the poor campesinos in Canindeyu is owned by Blas Riquelma, a former Colorado Party Senator and Stroessner ally who is also one of Paraguay’s richest men. Riquelma owns a chain of supermarkets and food companies and much of his land is used for soya production.
Not surprisingly, during the siege of the peasants, police special warfare units and helicopters flown by the military’s Special Operations Forces, which are trained and equipped by the United States, used tear gas and flame throwers on the occupying campesinos. Lugo immediately fired his Interior Minister Carlos Filizzola for the violence. Lugo’s grip on power appeared tpo already be slipping when he named Ruben Candia of the Colorado Party and a suspected conspirator in a plot to overthrow Lugo in 2011 as the new Interior Minister.
Not once did the Obama administration condemn the use of brute force in Canindeyu. On June 25, in an op-ed in The New York Times, former President Jimmy Carter lamented that the United States had «abandoned its role as the global champion of human rights.» It was clear that after the Obama administration’s support for the 2009 Honduran coup, it had not changed its policy of interfering in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations and had embarked on a new form of imperialistic «gunboat diplomacy.»
Lugo, who has been battling lymphatic cancer, was always seen as vulnerable to his enemies, most notably due to his illness and paternity suits brought against him while he was a priest. But with Lugo’s cancer in remission and Lugo accepting responsibility for fathering two children, his enemies did not want to wait for the next presidential election in April 2013. Instead, they engineered a soft coup. Paraguay’s heretofore politically-strong military and the Roman Catholic Church pledged support to Franco and his cabinet.
The Obama administration also was out of step with most Latin American nations that refused to recognize the Franco regime in Paraguay. Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, all governed by center-right governments, withdrew their ambassadors from Asuncion. Progressive governments in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Peru, Uruguay, and El Salvador refused to recognize the Paraguayan regime. Costa Rica also refused recognition. Venezuela pulled out its ambassador from Asuncion and cut off oil shipments to Paraguay. Franco was banned from attending the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) summit in Mendoza, Argentina and the group suspended Paraguay’s membership, opting, instead to invite Lugo to attend the summit. To further isolate the Franco regime, Lugo planned an early hand over of Paraguay’s chairmanship of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to Peru.
The U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) role in the Paraguay events are uncertain, however, if the Honduras coup is any indication, the Pentagon was active in advising the soft coup plotters as they prepared for their move against the campesinos in Canindeyu and Lugo. The Pentagon maintains access facilities in Paraguay and in nearby Argentina and Chile.
Latin America is trying to break free from decades of domination by the yanquis from the north. As witnessed in Honduras, and now, Paraguay, the insidious interference by Uncle Sam in the domestic affairs of the nations of the Western Hemisphere will not be relegated to the ash heap of history any time soon.