That’s certainly a reasonable suspicion about the strange constitutional coup that two weeks ago overthrew President Fernando Lupo. And if that’s the case, the reason becomes abundantly clear in a story from Mexico City’s La Jornada via a translation at Aletho News:
A group of US generals reportedly visited Paraguay for a meeting with legislators on June 22 to discuss the possibility of building a military base in the Chaco region, which borders on Bolivia in western Paraguay. The meeting coincided with the Congress’s sudden impeachment the same day of left-leaning president Fernando Lugo, who at times has opposed a US military presence in the country. In 2009 Lugo cancelled maneuvers that the US Southern Command was planning to hold in Paraguay in 2010 as part of its “New Horizons” program.
More bases in the Chaco are “necessary,” rightwing deputy José López Chávez, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Defense, said in a radio interview. Bolivia, governed by socialist president Evo Morales, “constitutes a threat for Paraguay, due to the arms race it’s developing,” according to López Chávez. Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the sparsely populated Chaco from 1932 to 1935, the last major war over territory in South America.
The US has been pushing recently to set up military bases in the Southern Cone, including one in Chile and one in Argentina’s northeastern Chaco province, which is close to the Paraguayan Chaco, although it doesn’t share a border with Paraguay [see Update #1129]. Unidentified military sources say that the US has already built infrastructure for its own troops in Paraguayan army installations near the country’s borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil; for example, an installation in Mariscal Estigarribia, some 250 km from Bolivia, has a runway almost 3.8 km long, in a country with a very limited air force.
Now consider a 21 September 2009 SECRET/NOFORN diplomatic cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the American embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay referring to U.S. Special Forces training operation then underway in the country:
One year into office, President Lugo is confronted by the reality of governing with a fractured ruling coalition, an antagonistic Congress, and entrenched systemic corruption. Lugo has proven resilient, and thus far has weathered deliberate destabilization efforts that included a wave of small explosive devices and bomb threats in Asuncion. Nevertheless, rumors of coup-plotting persist along with a continual erosion of Lugo’s political capital. Given the current environment and the absence of written status protections for all DoD personnel in Paraguay, their presence poses a potential political risk. At any point, those who oppose Lugo or merely wish to weaken his ties to the United States may publicly raise the issue of U.S. forces in Paraguay and speculate about their role in a way that undercuts U.S. interests. In addition, there is a potential personal risk to U.S. forces on training missions in Paraguay without the benefit of status protections or equivalent.
Then consider this excerpt from another cable, a SECRET dispatch sent to Washington on 2 June 2008 by Deputy Chief of Mission Michael J. Fitzpatrick in Asuncion:
Sensitive reporting indicates that some members of Lugo’s inner circle have ties to representatives of Venezuelan President Chavez. These Lugo insiders claim that he supports Chavez’ plans for Latin America; Lugo has stated publicly and privately (to Embassy officials) that he will not align himself with Chavez. Lugo volunteered to OAS chief of electoral mission (and former Colombia Foreign Minister) Maria Emma Mejia early April 21 that while Chavez was the first president to congratulate him April 20, he does not know Chavez and was delighted that the U.S. Ambassador was in fact the first caller to congratulate him and to offer support for his government. One party in Lugo’s coalition, the P-MAS (Paraguayan Movement towards Socialism), receives Venezuelan financial support.
And here’s an excerpt from another cable, a SECRET/NOFORN 18 June 2007 dispatch from Ambassador Craig Kelly in Santiago, Chile:
Our growing economic relationship with the pragmatic leftist government in Uruguay puts the lie to the claim that greater trade and investment with the U.S. is tantamount to betrayal of local populations. This is critical because poor countries, like Uruguay, are vulnerable not so much to Chavez’s ideology but to his petrobolivars. We need to draw attention to and build on these success stories borne out of engagement with the U.S., as alternatives to Chavez’ vision of a region cut off from the U.S. Even Paraguay’s leftist priest-turned presidential candidate Fernando Lugo has stated he is closer to Bachelet or Lula than to Chavez.
Now let’s add another ingredient to the mix: Genetically modified soybeans peddled by American companies, as noted in an 18 June 2008 cable from Economics/Political Chief James Story at the U.S. Consulate in Sao Paulo: and titled U.S. SCIENTISTS VISIT BRAZIL FOR MOU ON BIOFUELS:
With peasant farmers threatening land invasions to demand land reform and end perceived environmental abuses, Paraguay’s soybean producers last month staged a two-day demonstration intended to call the government’s attention to rural turmoil. Hundreds of medium- and large-scale soy producers parked their tractors on Dec. 15 and 16 along the sides of the roads in 13 departments, creating a so-called “tractorazo”, underscoring the importance of peasant labor to agricultural production. The protest by soy producers comes after months of marches on Asuncisn and threats of land invasion by thousands of small and landless peasants, or campesinos, demanding agrarian reform and an end to the spraying of toxic agro-chemicals. Handling the tensions that fueled it marks a key test for President Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop who took office Aug.15.
Incidentally, the same cable also mention Amyris, the UC Berkeley-spawned and Bill Gates-enabled genetic engineering company that hopes to make a fortune off of using GM bugs to harvest fuel from plants.
A final bit of context
The so-called constitutional coup that led to Lugo’s ouster followed a bloody confrontation between peasants and police at the site of a massive agricultural plantation the peasants claimed had been illegally seized by a leading supporter of the opposition Colorado party.
So we’re getting the picture of a nominally leftist leader with uncomfortable relations with both an ambitious American military and the peasants’ demand for land reform and their deep dislike of American agribusiness and its monopoly on seeds.
Forgive us if we suspect some deep politics at work, favoring both the Pentagon and global corporations like Monsanto which provide the patented seeds to the latifundistas.