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In the Shadow of Paraguay's Coup, Social Movements Mobilize for Democracy

Resistance to the coup takes the form of small urban protests, art and the use of social networking tools.

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Speaking of the deal with RTA and Monsanto, Paraguayan economist Luis Rojas told  IPS News that “It’s worrisome that a government that was not elected by popular vote is bringing in these foreign investments without any kind of control.” In the case of deals with both companies, Franco is moving ahead without studies that are typically required for such agreements.

On July 30th, the “No to Rio Tinto Alcan’s Coup” campaign was launched by ex-president Lugo, and Ricardo Canese, an engineer and leader of the Guasu Front social organization. They are seeking to prevent the company from arriving in the country, and are working on gathering 100,000 signatures against the RTA deal, which they said  paved the way for the coup

In response to the deal the Franco government recently struck with Monsanto supporting genetically- altered cotton seeds, campesino leader Jorge Galeano told the AP that the use of this seed “goes against the economy of small farmers” and will utilize agro-chemicals that only benefit large-scale production. “This is a commercial condition that violates the concept of our fight for Paraguay’s agricultural sovereignty,” Galeano said.

A number of protests and strikes have also been organized by workers and unions to denounce the Franco government’s politically-motivated firing of state employees in a wide range of agencies, ministries, hydroelectric plants and public media outlets. The workers say they are being dismissed for their support for Lugo, or their leftist political beliefs. The fact that this purging of public employees is being committed by an administration that was not democratically-elected has further incensed workers and their supporters. 

Out of the Dictator’s Shadow

Much of these recent political and social changes can be traced to the shadow of the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989), which still hangs over the nation. After the fall of the dictatorship in 1989, many of the same politicians from the regime simply re-entered politics with new roles, Castillo said. “While the dictatorship left, the system of power remained intact.” And this power structure – feudal, repressive, elitist and conservative – continues to define Paraguayan politics today. 

“What the coup has succeeded in doing is basically re-positioning the political actors, unmasking them, allowing rural and urban citizens to be able to distinguish between those who propose to change the status quo and those who want to maintain it,” Castillo explained. 

Such renewed political awareness has manifested itself in various ways. According to Muñoz, the coup proved that the 1992 constitution was worthless, as it was manipulated by politicians who used it to conduct an illegitimate parliamentary coup. “And so the people say ‘No!’ We have to begin to plant another model of democracy, another model of society, and people are already talking about organizing a national constitutional assembly where we can discuss these issues.” 

She said the country’s current crisis would not be solved with the presidential elections scheduled for April of 2013. The solution, according to Muñoz, would emerge when citizens can sit down to discuss their future in a constitutional assembly. “There is an urgent need now,” she said, “to develop stronger mechanisms which guarantee that the rights of the citizens are not violated... We are moving toward this, we’re discussing a new paradigm.”

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

 
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