The election of the businessman Cartés as the new President of Paraguay in some elections that legitimize the parliamentary coup that removed Lugo from office on June 22, represents a political victory for the most concentrated groups of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. After Maduro’s weak victory in Venezuela, Cartés’ success gives a certain encouragement to the political right wing of the Southern Cone. However, it must not be interpreted as a restoration without rifts of the traditional control of the Colorado Party, an historic tool of the large landowner oligarchy and a support of the Stroessner dictatorship. Rather, Cartés takes office without a “blank check,” but having to face a complex situation, marked by strong contradictions of every type, despite economic growth.
Paraguay on the South American chess board
The Paraguayan ruling class has been considered for decades as a “soldier in the struggle against communism” and an ally of the United States, in part, so that the brutal oppression of the workers and peasants would be guaranteed, in part, in order to compensate for the dependence of its big neighbors, Brazil and Argentina. The immovable opposition of the Senate to Venezuela’s entering Mercosur could only be overcome by suspension of Paraguay’s membership as a result of the parliamentary coup that removed Lugo. Together with that, initiatives like the approach to the Pacific bloc promoted by Mexico, Colombia and Chile, or the negotiation in process of a Free Trade Agreement with Mexico, as well as the military agreements with the Pentagon for the use of airports, are changing Paraguay’s position into a thorn in the side of the South American projects of Brazil and Argentina. But, at the same time, Paraguay is carrying out the biggest part of its foreign trade with these countries, including the sale of energy from Itaipú and Yaciretá. Paraguay’s illicit sales, that is, smuggling, add more than 5,000,000,000 dollars annually, equalling legal exports. The Paraguayan economy has been recovering from a fall of -1.2% of GDP in 2012, and, although this year 10% growth was anticipated1, its extreme dependence on many small products (soy, meat) and scarce markets, makes it very vulnerable and exposed to big fluctuations. The bourgeoisie is seeking diversification by handing over the natural resources to the transnational corporations, like the Canadian mining company Río Tinto (to produce aluminum), US oil companies and others (interests that played their part in the coup against Lugo).
All the weighty reasons for trying to overcome the impasse of its inclusion in MERCOSUR are turning up. Cartés, crossing spokesmen of his very own party, has announced his willingness to rejoin, stating that “It is too important, “ and that “Here we have only two roads. EIther we remain looking backwards, and we stay anchored in the war of the Triple Alliance, or we put all our ability into correcting the mistakes”2. For their part, not only did the imperialist governments, beginning with Washington and Madrid, immediately congratulate Cartés, but the progressives did also. Cristina Kirchner stood out with her incredible “Congratulations to the Paraguayan people for the exemplary civic day” (that put the final bow on the coup-plotters’ operation that displaced her progressive ally). Even Maduro, declared persona non grata in Asunción, when diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Paraguay were suspended, communicated his greetings. For its part, the Brazilian government is discretely pushing for that return, which it imagines will be facilitated because Chávez’ death would reduce Paraguay’s reservations about Venezuela’s inclusion3. Despite the opposition of groups within the Colorado Party itself, it is likely that Asunción’s reinstatement will be negotiated by the Mercosur meeting that will take place in Caracas within a few months.
The Guaraní “Berlusconi”
That is the way some press media have presented the brand new President, a multi-millionaire, anti-union, homophobic and anti-political coup plotter. Cartés heads an empire of 26 firms, with tobacco companies, textile companies, service-sector companies, the Amambay bank, etc., among which, union organizing is blocked. Cartés having been arrested in 2008, for maneuvers with currency, his fortune has multiplied by obscure means. According to Wikileaks, the United States connects him with smuggling and drug trafficking. He won popularity as President of the Libertad soccer club, and, recently, in 2009, he joined the ANR (Alianza Nacional Republicana, the Colorado Party). He was an active manager of the parliamentary coup against Lugo. One of his recent sayings was, that if he had a gay son, he “would shoot one shot in the testicles,” which gives an idea of his ideological values.
Cartés, who is trying to look like a “renovator” of the Colorado Party, has the widespread political machine of the ANR, but his relationships with the traditional leadership have been very rough. Although he will have a majority in the Chamber of Deputies (47 of the 80 seats), that is not so in the decisive Senate (only 19 out of 45), because of which he will have to negotiate with the Liberal Party (PRLA) of ex-President Franco, a former ally of Lugo, and Cartés’ partner/rival in the coup, who came in second in the elections.
The vote for Cartés was broader than the traditional Colorado Party vote. Cartés managed to win votes from young people and groups of the poor, with his promises of opening up “new directions” for the country and creating jobs, in the context of a big abstention (by 30% of the electorate).
Lugo’s reformism, the big loser
In a distant third place, divided, with hardly 10% of the votes and having meager parliamentary representation, the setback of Lugo’s reformism is explained, in the first place, by the dreadful (for the people) governmental management of the former Bishop, who, far from fulfilling his campaign promises, kept the regime practically untouched; he approved the anti-terrorist law, the anti-worker MIPYMES law of labor insecurity; he endorsed the criminalization of social protest and of peasants’ protest, the massacre at Kupirenda (which opened up the crisis used as a pretext for his downfall) etc. And, in the second place, because of his shameful capitulation in front of the parliamentary coup, by disarming the incipient resistance, and then subordinating himself to the process of electoral legitimization of the coup that had thrown him out.
Thus, the center-left appeared in the elections, divided into three pieces: the Avanza País Front (that presented Mario Ferreiro as a candidate), the Guasú Front (made up of, among others, the Communist Party), with Lugo as a Senator Elect and whose candidate was Aníbal Carrillo; and Kuñá Pyrenda, a reformist-feminist pole, headed by Lilian Soto, a former Civil Service minister of Lugo himself.
Preparing the resistance against the government of Cartés
The workers and peasants of Paraguay will have to confront the new government and its plans of surrender and repression, by relying solely on their own organizations and methods of struggle. While the “friendly governments” are embracing and reconciling with Cartés, we workers of Argentina, Brazil and Latin America have to extend the hand to our Paraguayan class brothers, since we share one and the same struggle, which, in the case of Argentina, begins with welding the unity between native-born and immigrant workers, by rejecting the xenophobia that the employers make use of, to divide us and weaken us. Facing the limited “South Americanism” of the nationalist and progressive governments, that, at every step, display their powerlessness and capitulations to foreign capital and to reaction, as in front of the coups in Honduras and Paraguay, the alternative is to put the Latin American working class at the front of the continental struggle against imperialism and its domestic agents, with the strategic goal of forging the real economic and political unity of the region in a Federation of Socialist Republics of Latin America.
The agrarian time bomb and emigration
These two big problems are key for understanding the depth of the Paraguayan social crisis and the contradictions that Cartés will confront. Decades of expropriations of peasants and indigenous people have resulted in a huge concentration of land, resisted by the peasants’ mobilization, despite the brutal police and military repression and the landowners’ bands of hired thugs, that, in two decades, have claimed more than 260 victims, in an intermittent war for land. In Paraguay, more than 85% of the lands suitable for agriculture and forestry production (27,807,215 hectares) is monopolized by 2.5% of the property owners with more than 500 hectares (7,478 large properties), while the medium-sized farms are decreasing, year after year; only 4.12% of the area is in the hands of the small farmers with less than 20 hectares (260,000 families). With almost 40% of the population living in the countryside, the expulsion of the population is fostering an enormous emigration to Argentina, Brazil, and other countries, where hundreds of thousands of Paraguayans are exploited and discriminated against, as part of the most oppressed strata of the working class. Of course, none of these structural problems can be solved with the promises from a government at the service of the oligarchy and foreign capital, like the government that Cartés will head.
Translated by Yosef M.