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martes, junio 26, 2012

Paraguay's Coup, the US's Weak Response

There's a feeling of deja vu about this. Another coup in the Americas, another golpe de estado displaces a left leaning president, another opportunity for the US to shy away from swift condemnation. This time the coup is in Paraguay. This time the US is assessing how other nations react to the coup.

The LA Times reports:

The governments of South America have united to punish Paraguay for removing President Fernando Lugo on Friday, suspending the country’s membership in regional organizations for what some leaders are calling a coup.

When news spread that the Paraguayan Senate had voted to oust the left-leaning former Catholic bishop, widespread condemnation came quickly from leaders in a region with bad memories of dictatorships and democratic instability. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said her government would not recognize the new government formed by Federico Franco, who served as Lugo’s vice president before turning against him.

“Argentina will not validate the coup d’etat in Paraguay,” Kirchner said. “This is about more than Lugo.... This is a definitive attack on institutions and a replay of situations we had thought were totally forgotten.”

For all of Latin America’s varied ideological stripes, the negative response was surprisingly unanimous. Left-wing governments in Venezuela and Ecuador announced they’d cut off shipments of oil. Chile’s conservative government pulled its ambassador from the country. Colombia’s president, Miguel Santos, issued a statement saying there may have been an “abuse” of the proceedings. And regional powerhouse Brazil has put forward the possibility of further sanctions against Asuncion.

Many details about the legalisms underlying the "parliamentary coup" are here (great video). Long story short:

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has been ousted in what he has described as a parliamentary coup. On Friday, the Paraguayan Senate voted 39-to-4 to impeach Lugo, saying he had failed in his duty to maintain social order following a recent land dispute which resulted in the deaths of six police officers and 11 peasant farmers. A former priest, Lugo was once called the "Bishop of the Poor" and was known for defending peasant rights. Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Uruguay have all condemned Lugo’s ouster, but the question remains whether the Obama administration will recognize the new government.

Mexico, as well, has condemned the coup: “[E]ven if the political judgment took place according to the procedures established in the Paraguayan Constitution, Mexico considers that the proceedings did not give ex-President Lugo the time and space needed for the defense he had a right to.”

And the US? What says the US about yet another coup in the Americas? Will the US take a strong position for democracy in this hemisphere? Will the US condemn the golpe de estado and refuse to recognize the golpistas' government? Will the US cut off military aid? Will the US act to express its view that democracy should be supported?

Well, maybe, maybe, quisas, quisas, quisas.

U.S. State Department representative Victoria Nuland said on Monday that Washington is “quite concerned about the speed of the process used for this impeachment in Paraguay."

And she also made one thing abundantly clear: the US is not going to step into the lead on this. Or condemn the coup. Or take swift action. No. The US is going slowly and cautiously to assess the situation. The US is going to watch what others do. AFP reports:

Nuland said that the United States had also taken note that Paraguay's new leadership has committed to going ahead with upcoming elections.

The State Department also revealed that one day before his impeachment, Lugo met with the US ambassador to Paraguay, James Thessin. It said that the meeting was at Lugo's request and did not offer further details.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke over the weekend to regional power Brazil's foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, as the United States determines its reaction, Nuland said.

Nuland declined to say whether the United States would back possible moves to oust Paraguay from the Organization of American States when the Washington-based body holds a special meeting.

"I think we look forward to seeing how much unity there is there in the OAS on next steps,"
Nuland said.

The OAS is meeting today. And the US will "see[] how much unity there is" before taking further steps. If the news reports are any reflection of other nations' reactions, there's quite a lot of "unity." There's really not a lot to assess here.

Meanwhile, there are these additional details about the US's caution:

The US has not determined the ouster of Paraguay's President Fernando Lugo by impeachment as a coup in the South American nation but is closely following the events there, the US State Department has said.

Responding to a question about whether Washington has determined the impeachment constitutes a coup, spokesperson Victoria Nuland said: "We have not."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described the ouster a "coup", as Lugo was forced out and his deputy Federico Franco was sworn in as new president following the Paraguayan Senate's vote Friday in favour of impeaching Lugo on charges of "poorly discharging his duties", Xinhua reported.

Nuland also said that Washington has not made a decision about whether to recall its ambassador to Paraguay for consultations, as most Latin American governments have done....

She said Washington was consulting with "a broad cross-section" of its partners in the Organisation of American States and "taking stock of what our reaction will be."

One thing is sure. Paraguay is the poorest nation in South America. It has the most unequal distribution of wealth. It is still suffering from the legacy of Stroessnerismo. Lugo was committed to land reform, though he was unable to produce on that promise because of the fragility of his governing coalition and the power of the opposition. And now, those who opposed all land reform, those who opposed measures to fight poverty, those who most benefited from inequalities in wealth and income, those who benefit the most from Paraguay's hacienda system and its massive exports of soy and beef, have again assumed the reins. The coup is a clear step away from reform. And democracy. And the US should condemn it.

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