Paraguay: politics, land and law

I appreciate Colin’s posts on the recent happenings in Paraguay. I want to provide a few opinions that I’ve gleaned from friends in the country. My more conservative contacts tell me that the ouster of Lugo has been in the works for months and that the disaster in Canindeyu was only a debacle that Lugo’s enemies were waiting for to make their move; that much has already been made clear in much of the news coverage of this issue.

What the media has not covered well is that the coalition between the Liberal Party and other smaller left-leaning parties recently fell apart. Conservatives are saying that in preparation for the upcoming presidential elections in 2013, Lugo told Blas Llano, president of the Liberal Party, that their coalition had ended and that Lugo would not rely on the liberals to achieve re-election. Supposedly he was planning on relying on the Tecopora Party (Guarani for “living well) and the Tecojoja (“living in union”) Party, parties built from Lugo’s popular welfare programs. Lugo’s behind-the-scene’s rejection of the Liberal Party, according to some conservative insiders, is ultimately what prompted the coup.

This opinion stands in stark contrast to what many “new democrats” and several news outlets and bloggers have said. That is that the coup is reflection of “growing pains” in a democracy that is struggling to negotiate old-guard styles of running the country and the infusion of grass-roots political activity. Thus, many observers in Paraguay find the term “parliamentary coup” an apt term to describe what happened and that charges against Lugo were completely illegitimate.

Several articles have suggested (sometimes snidely) that Paraguay’s democracy is still in its infantile stage, and needs some “maturing” still. This rhetoric of a democracy “growing up” sounds familiar and resonates with rhetoric found in the age of US interventionism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It assumes that there is a standard, ostensibly Western Europe and the U.S., to which all democracies must aspire. While, yes, the coup in Paraguay was reprehensible, I do not think we can simply say that it is indicative of a democracy that is not quite like ours. Instead, we must understand historically how Paraguayan (and many LA countries’) democracies function: with a high degree of patronage and clientelism. In other words, I do not think we should engage in a centuries’ old practice of placing countries on a “democracy meter” whose standards are set by the U.S. (This opinion stems from my training as a colonialist and critical reading of the enlightenment as a “universally” good thing).

Still, I feel that we need better analyses of the tensions between the newer grass-roots politics and old-guard politics, the results of which I feel we are seeing. The historical question we can ask is the degree to which Lugo’s career was a reflection of these new politics or was he just a new player in the same game? I think historians will find that it was a mixed bag.

About Shawn

ABD Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of New Mexico. I study Early Latin America and am currently working on a dissertation on racial relations, the many iterations of encomienda, and frontier societies in the Rio de la Plata during the 16th and 17th centuries.
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