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(en) Anarkismo.net: Paraguay, another Honduras on the making? Interview with Fionuala Cregan
Tue, 10 Jul 2012 12:15:59 +0300
On 29th June we interviewed Fionuala Cregan on the Paraguayan crisis, its background and
the Latin American context in which it takes place. She is based in Argentina and works
with the Latin America Regional Office of Church World Service. She has also written for
the Irish Times on Paraguay and has extensive research on the impact of agribusiness on
Paraguayan peasants' lives. The views expressed here are her own. We hope that this
interview will give a better insight into the developments in that country. ---- 1. Some
people, in fact most Latin American leaders, have deplored the “destitution” of Lugo as a
thinly veiled coup with a constitutional disguise. The Vatican, Spain and Germany, on the
other hand, have stated this is a constitutional process and as such should be respected.
What is your view on the recent political crisis in Paraguay?
It took just 24 hours for the Paraguayan parliament to kick out democratically elected
President Fernando Lugo. He was given neither time nor space to defend himself. This is in
violation of due democratic process and thus amounts to a parliamentary coup. For this
reason, Paraguay has been suspended from the regional trading bloc MercoSur as well as
from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a union modelled on the EU focused on
It does not come as a surprise that certain European countries have not condemned the
coup. The Vice President, Federico Franco, who was immediately sworn in as President is
supported by and represents the interests of large rural estate-owners and the business
and industrial chambers. Paraguay - a small landlocked country in South America – is the
fourth largest producer of soy in the world much of which is exported to Europe for use as
biofuel and animal fodder. The extension of the agricultural frontier for soy cultivation
has lead to the eviction of hundreds of thousands of small scale farmers or campesinos
from their land and has created a major land crisis. While Lugo was not able to resolve
this crisis, he opened up spaces for dialogue with the campesino sector and attempted to
find solutions. This was not well viewed by large estate owners or soy production
companies and they have been waiting for an excuse to oust the President and replace him
with one favourable to their interests and those of European investors.
As for the Vatican, it has never supported Lugo as it regards him as a dangerous “Third
World Bishop” linked to the philosophy of Liberation Theology. This theology which
interprets the teachings of Jesus as liberation from unjust economic, political, or social
conditions grew in South America during the 1960s and was very soon condemned by the
Vatican which excommunicated a large number of priests who practised this theology. The
Vatican attempted to prevent Lugo running for President in 2008 – as a result of which he
resigned from his role as Bishop and continued his Presidential campaign. The Catholic
Church in Paraguay was one of the first organizations to congratulate the de-facto
2. The Parliamentarians in Paraguay have expressed shock and outrage at the Curuguaty
massacre. Was this an exceptional event in class violence in Paraguay?
The death of 6 policemen and 11 campesinos in Curuguaty and wounding of 50 more is a
deplorable event. However, in my opinion, it does not represent class violence. This is
the label that was created by the right wing pro business media in Paraguay and used as a
justification for the subsequent ousting of President Lugo.
As mentioned, the extension of the agricultural frontier for soy production has had a
profound impact on campesinos many of whom now find themselves landless and forced in to
the urban slums of the capital Asuncion or into occupying land that is not in use and
demanding land redistribution.
Curuguaty is a city in Eastern Paraguay near the Brazilian border. The violent events of
15 June took place in a estate belonging to land owner Blas Riquelme – a former colleague
of dictator Alfred Stroessner who ruled from 1954-1989 – and today closely linked to the
Colorado Party, owner of a supermarket chain and lucrative investments in livestock.
During the dictatorship he illegally expanded his estate to appropriate 2000 hectares of
fiscal land – in other words land that belongs to the Paraguayan State. It is this piece
of land that a group of landless campesinos were occupying and demanding its return to the
On 15 June a group of special police forces, on the request of Blas Riquelme and with an
eviction order from a judge and state prosecutor, arrived at the estate. On the way they
were ambushed, supposedly by the campesinos, and a battle ensued leading to 17 tragic deaths.
The police were members of an elite force who had been trained in Colombia on counter
insurgency techniques. Many ask how could this specialised force have fallen in to a trap
such as this? Had the Police intelligence service been sabotaged? Was it all a perfectly
staged event to criminalize campesinos and oust President for his supposed incompetency in
managing these events and for having dialogued with this “criminal” sector?
According to Paraguayan Journalist Idilio Mendez “The plan was to criminalize, to provoke
extreme hate for Campesino Organizations, in order to force campesinos to abandon the
countryside and leave it for the exclusive use of agribusiness. Events in Curuguty are
part of a slow, painful process of ‘De-campesinisation’ of the Paraguayan countryside
which directly threatens the food sovereignty of the Paraguayan people.”
3. Many people have said that at the heart of this coup are the land owners and their
powerful multinational allies in agribusiness… could you give us some background to the
rural conflict and to the current state of land concentration in the country?
Paraguay is one of the most unequal countries in the world. 85 per cent of the land is in
the hands of 2 per cent of landowners the majority of whom have mansions in Miami or Punta
del Este, bank accounts in fiscal paradises and maintain strong ties with the agribusiness
industry, including US giant Monsanto, and are linked politically to the two main
political parties in Paraguay the Colorados and Liberales. It is these people who control
the Paraguayan Parliament and who ousted President Lugo. One of the first steps taken by
the new Minister for the Interior was to cancel the Protocol for dialogue with Campesinos
who occupy land.
4. Has there been any significant resistance in Paraguay to these new developments? Do you
think that a campaign of national resistance can be in place? Franco was speaking of
preventing a “civil war”…. How deep do you think is this crisis?
There has been resistance from social movements in Paraguay but these movements are not
yet strong enough to provoke the levels of resistance seen in other Latin American
countries following coup attempts.
Paraguay lived through one of the longest dictatorships in Latin America with 60 years
under Stroessner which was followed by a democratic dictatorship under Strossner´s allies,
the Colorado Party. The election of Fernando Lugo as President in 2008 was the first ever
break with Colorado rule and marked the first true opening up of spaces for civil society
and social movements.
However Lugo lacked the political will or courage to implement any of his campaign
promises of agrarian reform. He opened up dialogue – but there were few changes in the
lives of thousands of landless campesinos and indigenous people who felt that Lugo played
too much to the interests of the right.
As a result social movements became divided with some continuing their support for Lugo
and others focusing on construct their own political movements. These internal divisions
explain the lack of a stronger resistance on the streets of Paraguay these past few weeks.
5. Do you think Paraguay is another Honduras on the making?
There are many similarities. Both are small countries dominated for centuries by a
powerful elite who are not afraid to spill blood to defend their interests, where the
United States has a vested geopolitical interest with important military bases in both and
where civil society has suffered a long history of repression. Zelaya in Honduras and Lugo
in Paraguay represented the first fledgling steps towards social justice – and the elite
responded with brutal force. Since the coup in Honduras 3 years ago, this country is now
one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a human rights defender.
The difference however lies in Paraguay´s location in South America where its powerful
neighbours Brazil and Argentina are lead by left leaning Governments and who alongside all
other governments in the region have condemned the coup and taken concrete political
measures against Paraguay. The de-facto government of Federico Franco will not be able to
act with the same impunity as Lobos in Honduras. In addition even before the coup, there
were elections scheduled for 2013. Both national and regional dialogue and political
negotiating in this process, as well as the reunification of social movements will be key
to ensuring that Paraguay does not become another Honduras.
Pictures at: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/23360
Peasants occupy land in Curuguaty
The State response: a peasant massacred
Another peasant massacred
Dead bodies pile up in the local hospital
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