In the Shadow of Paraguay's Coup, Social Movements Mobilize for Democracy
A protest against the coup in Paraguay.
Photo Credit: Telesur
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Rain or shine, every Thursday in Asunción, Paraguay, activists gather to protest the right-wing government of Federico Franco which came to power in a June 22 parliamentary coup against left-leaning president Fernando Lugo. These weekly protests represent a new spirit and strategy of protest in post-coup Paraguay.
The coup gave birth to new corporate agreements, repression of citizens’ rights and crackdowns on press freedoms. It also unwittingly created a new panorama of leftist social struggles and movements.
These movements for democracy have risen up against the coup government and the renewed state and corporate assaults on human rights, the environment and small farmers. Some activists are protesting politically-motivated layoffs, while others are demanding a new constitution. Beyond questioning the Franco government, these movements are putting forth a progressive agenda in the debate about what kind of country Paraguayans want, regardless of who is in power.
“What we are seeing are self-organized protests that are organized collectively,” Gabriela Schvartzman Muñoz, the spokeswoman for Movimiento Kuña Pyrenda, a socialist and feminist political movement which organizes the Thursday protests in the capital, explained in a phone interview from Asunción.
This more collectively-organized form of mobilization is a relatively new phenomenon in Paraguayan social movements, and has marked the new protests for democracy in the country.
“Before it was the president of the union that organized people for a strike, or a campesino [small farmer] leader marching ahead of a mobilization. Now we don’t see this kind of traditional leadership,” Muñoz explained. “Behind these citizens’ marches, there is no political leader, there is no leader of an organization; these are more spontaneous mobilizations.” Such protests involve “the participation of people who were invisible before, and are now protagonists.”
The resistance to the coup is dispersed around the country and typically involves small urban protests (largely in Asunción) that have utilized colorful marches, art, theater, music, and poetry as expressions of resistance. Notably, youth have led much of the organizing in this movement, and social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter have played a key role in bringing people together against the coup government.
“This [urban movement] represents a fresh breeze within the weak and demobilized social sector,” Paraguayan human rights lawyer Orlando Castillo explained to me in an interview. “Paraguay is now in a very interesting period, where a new range of possibilities could strengthen social processes.”
Outside the nation’s landlocked borders, the waves of Paraguayan migrants whose numbers have skyrocketed in the last eight years are also mobilizing against Franco’s coup. Castillo said, “These people have organized to make the resistance global. Outside of the country, this is the international face against the coup.”
A Fight for Sovereignty
Nationally, the Franco government has not improved the outlook for much of the impoverished country’s working class. “The social situation has basically remained the same [since the coup]: poverty and extreme poverty affect nearly 57% of the population,” Raúl Zacarías Fernández, a sociologist and Director of the Department of Social Sciences at the Universidad Católica de Paraguay said in Revista Debate. According to the sociologist, those in the landless movement fighting for their own land “are reorganizing and preparing for occupations.”
Meanwhile, Franco has not met with a single social, urban or campesino organization since taking office. Instead, according to his official agenda, he has focused on meetings with business leaders. In the short time that he has been in office, Franco has fast-tracked controversial deals with Monsanto and the Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) mining company, deals which critics charge will threaten human and environmental rights, and the economic sovereignty of the nation. These moves have motivated numerous protests and debates around the country.