The cost of renewed U.S. control in Paraguay

U. S. involvement in Paraguay has a dark past. The Standard Oil Company financed Bolivia’s brutal 1932-1935 Chaco war with Paraguay. U.S. agents helped the Stroessner dictatorship in carrying out the terrorist Operation Condor aimed at assassinating enemies of right wing governments in Latin America. Stroessner’s regime fell after 35 years only when U. S. support ended.

Paraguay interests the U.S. government now because it’s close to unruly Bolivia, because of oil deposits, the Guaraní fresh water aquifer, and lawlessness in the tri-border area. The world’s fourth largest soy exporter, Paraguay bought enough seed and herbicide from Monsanto Corporation in 2011 to generate $30 million in tax-free income. U.S. troops rotate through Paraguay.

U. S. interventionists now work to solidify cooperation from civil and military government officials. In a report February 7, Brazilian journalist Natalia Viana maintains that approach helped facilitate the congressional coup that on June 22, 2012 removed the progressive President Fernando Lugo from office.

For five years ending in 2012, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) pursued its “Threshold Program” in Paraguay. Viana suggests that “through USAID, the North Americans donated more than $100 million to businesses, NGO’s, and government agencies [and thereby] are guaranteed proximity to various spheres of power.” Funding increased from $ 17.3 million in 2007 to $36.2 million in 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, 1000 Paraguayan soldiers and police received U.S. training, most in 2009.

“Threshold” was supposed to ensure “transparency, justice, and economic liberty,” and reduce corruption. Funds went to the Interior Ministry, Public Ministry, Comptroller General, Finance Ministry, and Supreme Court. The police received $9.4 million in 2009 alone; Supreme Court, $5 million that year.

Lugo’s tenure ended through quick impeachment by a landowner dominated Congress refusing to accept his non-approval of Monsanto‘s application to market genetically modified soy, cotton, and corn seeds. On becoming president, former Vice President Fernando Franco quickly complied with Monsanto’s wishes

Viana portrays U. S. Ambassador Liliana Ayalde as confident, especially because the finance minister, police chief, interior minister, and President Franco’s cabinet chief “know and respect USAID and worked with us in the past.”

Yet the U.S. government had financed dozens of organizations earlier to assure Lugo’s election in 2008, perhaps to break the Colorado Party’s 62-year hold on power. Analyst Luis Argüero Wagner explains that, Lugo “won the elections on the back of intervention by the North American ambassador James Cason.” He describes Lugo’s “cabinet as made up entirely of people strongly identified with the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy…the Inter-American Foundation, [and as regards Defense Minister Bareiro Spaini] schools of coup-plotters in the United States.”

Evidently for U.S. strategists, securing control over targeted governments is a higher priority than selecting their leaders. The idea may be that with leaders paid off and dependent, controls will survive periods of turmoil and uncertainty. Post-coup Paraguay is passing through one of them.

Charges proliferate that the violent incident used as pretext for the coup was scripted. Five days prior to Lugo’s impeachment, 324 police forced 70 peasants – some carrying homemade shotguns – to vacate land in Curuguaty, claimed without benefit of title by a wealthy former Colorado Party president. The encounter involving police sharpshooters left six police and 11 peasants dead. Lugo’s enemies declared the incident demonstrated his ineptness in using security forces to block agrarian rights agitation. Agrarian leader Vidal Vega, witness to the killings, was later murdered. U.S. trained police participated in the shoot-out.

Viana quoted as a confidant Ayalde as saying, “Political actors across the spectrum are looking to hear our advice.”  Earlier on Wikileaks cables, Ayalde emphasized that, “Political control of the Supreme Court is crucial for guaranteeing impunity for crimes committed by slick politicians. Having friends on the Supreme Court is pure gold.” The Court rejected Lugo’s argument of unconstitutionality in regard to the scant time allowed for his defense against impeachment.

On February 2, presidential candidate Lino Oviedo died in a helicopter crash. Assassination is rumored. Polling data for presidential elections set for April 21, 2013 gives the retired general a 10 percent preference rating. Colorado Party candidate Horacio Cartes is quoted as saying, “Oviedo’s potential for attracting voters with moderately conservative views was extremely dangerous.” General Olviedo, a famous coup-plotter and conspirator, had joined with the U.S. embassy in removing Stroessner.

In polls, the wealthy, allegedly narco-trafficking Cartes is ahead of Efraín Alegre, candidate for President Franco’s Liberal Party. Next in line is the Guasu Front, the left leaning electoral coalition joined by the Paraguayan Communist Party that in 2008 put Lugo in power. Its candidate now is Anibal Carillo. Mario Ferreiro is the candidate of social democratic groups that split from the Front.

With the approach of elections, the U.S. embassy has augmented its staff.  “In the end,” Viana concludes, “U.S. support is fundamental for the future of any government in that country.”

The other story is what one agrarian activist calls a “severe crisis of the rural sector with deteriorating living standards for small producers.” In response, rural mobilization is advancing, but not without peril. Security forces have killed 120 organizers in recent years. Land occupiers at Curuguaty were detained and allegedly tortured. Yet there’s reason for resistance.

Now, two percent of Paraguayans own 90 percent of the country’s land. Since 1996, 30 million acres have been deforested to make way for soy production; 9000 farm families are forced off their land every year. Food must be imported to feed Paraguay’s people, 60 percent of whom live in poverty. Over 22 percent of small children are at risk of malnutrition, says Prensa Latina.

Photo: Farmers protest holding pictures of people who died on June 15, 2012, during clashes with police as they were evicted from a reserve, on the outskirts of Curuguaty, Paraguay. Jorge Saenz/AP



W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.