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Paraguay Parliamentary Coup: Another strike against Latin American democracy

FRIDAY FILE: On June 22, 2012, almost three years after the coup d’etat in Honduras, the Paraguayan Senate removed President Fernando Lugo from office after finding him guilty of impeachment in a 39 to 4 vote.

AWID talked with Paraguayan political scientist and feminist lawyer Line Bareiro about this situation.

By Gabriela De Cicco

Paraguay is located in central South American, bordering Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. It has a population of approximately 6,340,000 and its economy is sustained largely on exporting energy and meat, and producing soy. Since the end of the 19th century, two political parties have contested for power - the Asociación Nacional Republicana (National Republican Association, ANR, better known as Red party (PR)) and the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (Authentic Liberal Radical Party, better known as Liberal party (PL)). On April 20, 2008, former bishop Fernando Lugo won the elections as head of the “Patriotic Alliance for Change”[1]changing more than sixty years of Red rule (including the 35 year long Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship).

On June 15, 2012, the Curuguaty massacre occurred when a group of peasants took over lands belonging to a former Red Senator enriched under stronismo. During the eviction[2], shooting resulted in 11 peasants and six policemen being killed. This lead to the impeachment request and the quick and undemocratic ousting of President Fernando Lugo. Following the impeachment, Vice-president Federico Franco, who belongs to the most conservative section of the PLRA (and according to feminist activists is also a Catholic fundamentalist) was declared Presidente de Facto.

AWID: Was the Curuguaty massacre the only reason leading to the Parliamentary Coup?

Line Bareiro (LB): No, the causes are many. They are grounded in the discomfort with some of Lugo’s economic and political social justice measures. For example, Lugo´s administration was reluctant to allow the Canadian metal company Rio Tinto ALCAN to establish itself in Paraguay (something the current de-facto government has already allowed) and it increased control over the use of transgenic and agro-toxic products. The Health Ministry reform, providing universal access to primary health care, reaching the farthest rural and indigenous communities, created strong discomfort in the opposition. And some of the anti-poverty policies, like technical and financial support to small agricultural producers, and the monetary transference policies, caused some sectors to feel that they risked losing privileges.

AWID: Are some of those privileges related to land ownership?

LB: Yes. In Paraguay there is no land registry and according to the Agricultural and Livestock 2008 Census, 2% of the population owns 85.5% of the land[3]. All our important exporting products – like soya and meat – come from the land, so national power is there; and of course in the hydroelectric stations that are State-owned[4].

Lugo tried to implement land reform measures, but these were not fully achieved[5]. The Paraguayan elites were unhappy with the way Lugo’s administration dealt with peasants involved in land struggles. The President met with “carperos” (tent campers) leaders and as Senator Ana Mendoza de Acha said in horror, “He even gave them electricity and set up schools for the children of those people”[6]. The risk of the elites losing privileges increased when peasants demanded that some the land in the hands of large owners should belong to the State. Landless people also threatened new occupations by setting up their tents (“carpas”) on the roads in front of the lands they said they were going to occupy.

AWID: What role have feminist and women’s groups played since the coup?

LB: Lugo’s administration had several women officers, and four feminist ministers, leading the Public Function, Childhood and Adolescence, Women Secretary and the Health Ministry.[7] After the ousting, there was an immediate reaction rejecting the coup, and the Women’s Minister handed in her resignation, while the other Ministers resigned irrevocably. Minister of Public Function, Lilian Soto, had already left her position when she was appointed (presidential) candidate by Kuñapyrenda (feminist and socialist platform).

Feminist resistance is very integrated into what other civil society groups have been doing as resistance - through marches, sit-ins and social networking presence and a large number of women were visible in street and popular actions. A key role has been played here by Coordinadora Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas (CONAMURI, National Steering Group of Rural and Indigenous Women), whose most important historical leader, Maguiorina Balbuena, is also a vice-presidential candidate from the Political Platform Kuñapyrenda. Groups like Cladem (PY) and Coordinación de Mujeres del Paraguay (Paraguay Women´s Steering Group) reacted immediately with declarations circulated by different organizations in the region and internationally, which were endorsed to show their solidarity.

But something very challenging for the feminist movement happened when the Women´s Minister, Gloria Rubin - a very important feminist known for her work caring for victims and fighting against violence - decided to stay after she was made an offer to retain her position.

AWID: What are the Minister’s arguments for her decision to remain in office?

LB: According to Rubin, she has stayed on because she stands for sexual orientation and for the decriminalization of abortion. If she leaves, then the current president´s wife – who is an MP – could carry out her own project of a Social Action Ministry that would imply dissolving the Women´s Ministry. The current president is Catholic and a member of a group called “We want a Dad and a Mom” that is opposed to equal rights for homosexual persons. The Minister’s argument for staying is to hold on to her achievements, and she already has results to show, because a month after the coup, the Women’s Secretary became a Ministry by Law 4675 on July 25, 2012.

AWID: What are the immediate implications of the coup and the challenges looking forwards?

LB: This has serious economic consequences, and we are again isolated internationally when we had worked hard to address that. Our country has already been suspended from the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR, Union of South American Nations) and from Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur, Southen Common Market). The only “success” of the current government is that the Organization of American States (OAS) has not suspended Paraguay as it did with Honduras. Only the Vatican and Taiwan recognize the new government

There will be elections in April 2013. The challenge will be to have a real electoral process in the current climate. It will most likely be a Red Party victory, and for the time being the Liberals are happy to have achieved what votes would never have allowed them - to reach the Presidency. Nevertheless, there is a high probability that some political groups, like the Guasú Front and Kuñapyrenda, could get parliament seats and become important political forces, and that would be a great change.

Towards this, Kuñaypirenda and CONAMURI, are active in the different anti-coup fronts, to ensure women’s presence in actions and decision-making. Kuñapyrenda wants to expand the basis of women´s organizations, and now men also want to join the platform. It is a very creative group, one of the few that provide political training. What is good is that there are women in all political spaces and groups, and the requirements to register as a political movement before the Electoral Justice have already been met.

The other challenge is the friends who have been in opposition to Stronist dictatorship all their lives, who are now in favor of the coup. Paraguayan society has been seriously damaged. The country is split into two. June 22 was a strike against developing a culture of tolerance and Human Rights in Paraguay.

[1] Alliance members were the PL, a few social organizations and small left-wing political parties.

[2] Bareiro explains that an Eviction Protocol for land occupations was created in Paraguay, agreed with HR organizations, by which the officers-in-charge must be unarmed. “There was data about armed people among the occupying peasants. Nobody knows who trained them or if members of the terrorist group Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army) or mafiosi infiltrated themselves there. This is one of the worst massacres in Paraguayan history.”

[3] “See that the Agricultural and Livestock 1991 Census shows 81.32% of the land in the hands of 1.55% of the population, while the 2008 Census records an 85.5% of the land in the hands of 2%. According to impoverished peasant organizations’ estimations, there are 300,000 landless producing families. In the long period between both censuses, small land owners (from 5 to 10 acres) lost 366,000 acres while properties above 500 acres added 9 millions acres.” (LB).

[4] In 2011 the Brazilian Parliament ratified the treaty signed by Lugo and former Brazilian president Lula da Silva in 2009, increasing almost three times the amount paid by Brazil for the Paraguay surplus in the Itaipú water power station. This allowed Paraguay to considerably increase its annual income. Then Lugo announced his government would create a “Development Fund” to invest those resources in public works and infrastructure.

[5] One month after the ousting, the de-facto President Franco is carrying out a “counter land reform”, backtracking on the small steps forwards that had been taken earlier: “Perlas de la contrarreforma agraria” (


[7] The leaders in the Secretaries had Rank and treatment of Ministries.

Latin America