Sergio Fausto – Estado de S. Paulo, 7/7/2012
Why did the removal of President Fernando Lugo receive such an overwhelming response from countries in the region, while many previous aggressions against the spirit and principles of democracy were received with respectful silence by those who now rise up against “the coup of Paraguayan elites?”
Is Lugo’s impeachment more condemnable than Hugo Chavez’s failure to respect the results of the December 2007 referendum? Has it been forgotten that in the following year, the Venezuelan President promoted, by decree, some of the changes rejected by the majority of the electorate of the country?
Was the fast legislative procedure that marked the removal of Lugo more condemnable than the approval of Bolivia’s new Constitution in November of 2007, at a military base surrounded by troops and militants loyal to Evo Morales, in the absence of parliamentary opposition? Was the initiative taken by the Paraguayan Congress more condemnable than Rafael Correa’s decision, at the beginning of his term, to permit the future Constitutional Assembly, where he was sure to have the majority, to dissolve the recently elected Parliament where he had a minority?
Why such haste to condemn Paraguay, while for years most South-American nations, Brazil included, watched the systematic deformation of democratic institutions in Venezuela under the Chávez regime without protest, a process which has been replicated, to a lesser or greater extent, in Bolivia and Ecuador? Which is the greater threat to democracy in the region, an episode confined within the borders of the poorest country in South America, or the expansionary nature of the “Bolivarian Revolution”, whose epicenter is a country with one of the world’s largest oil reserves and a leader with the resources and willingness to trample on the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries?
In an attempt to justify the surprising zeal with which the purity of the democratic spirit was hastily applied, Lugo’s dismissal was a test of a new type of coup found by the region’s elites to get rid of governments committed to the poor and the nation´s interest. The idea that “neogolpismo”* is a kind of hydra with many heads best serves the interests of Chávez, Correa, and Evo. It lends itself to legitimizing their harassment of their internal opponents, who they treat as enemies of the people and puppets of the elite, if not puppets of the “empire” (the United States). There is nothing like inflating or fabricating threats to justify arbitrary action. Was it not to defend the supposed plans of a US invasion that Chávez formed a popular militia under his direct command, with the distribution of thousands of rifles? This aberration never merited the attention of the zealous democrats of today
In Argentina as well, one sees the capture of the State by a political group that assigns to itself the role of redeemer of the people and nation, confronting opponents as fighting enemies. Common to all these redeemer-leaders is the use of Manichean discourse, pitting the people against the elite, as if, besides being heroes of the people, they were not bosses of new elites which are gaining political influence and financial enrichment under the wings of their governments.
There are more than political affinities in the alliance between these four political leaders. Between them, there exists a wide grey area which blends business, government assistance, and campaign financing. Morales financed the program “Bolivia Cambia, Evo Cumple” (and who knows what else) with funds transferred by Chavez for which no one seems to be accountable. In the middle of Cristina Kirchner’s first campaign for presidency, a bag with US$800,000 in cash was found in the hands of a businessman close to the Chavez government, in a charter plane where high officials of the Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA, and Argentine state energy, Enarsa, were traveling. Five years and three judges later, the Argentine courts have still not clarified the case.
Why Chavez, Evo, Correia, and Cristina have brought themselves to condemn Paraguay is not difficult to understand. What is more complicated is understanding Brazil’s position. We marked an important difference by not choosing the path of economic sanctions. However, we sponsored the opportunistic maneuver that permits Venezuela’s accession into Mercosur in the wake of the suspension of Paraguay from the group.
Brazil lost an opportunity to assert, without fuss, our own terms of commitment to democracy in the region. To that end, it would suffice to not allow Venezuela’s admittance under these circumstances. It is pointless to have more than half of the region’s GDP if we belittle our own power to exercise political leadership. Presidents leave their mark on foreign policy in times like this. Dilma could have differed from her predecessor, always ready to give political support to “Bolivarian leaders” in the neighborhood. But that would raise comparison between her and Lula and irritate the PT (Brazilian Labor Party).
The question is not limited to foreign policy. It is worth reading the article signed by Lula’s Workers Party Secretary-General, Elói Pietá, published in PT´s official site right after the impeachment of Lugo. The title of the article is eloquent: “Even with all its strength and greatness, Brazil also tasted the temptations of the National Congress to topple President Lula.”[This is an indirect reference to the 2005 corruption scandal that forced the exit of Lula Chief of Staff José Dirceu, who was subsequently expelled from Congress. The trial of the forty people charged by the Federal Prosecutors office, by Brazil’s Supreme Court, is scheduled for early September] Concerning the “neogolpismo* of elites” the Secretary-General explains: “Today, the wealthy elites, where they do not control the Executive, have returned to the National Parliament to gain their main source of institutional support. In addition, through powerful private media, its main ideological guide and voice to the people, they continually leverage public opinion against the popular government. “
Brazil’s decision to punish Paraguay in order to reward Venezuela is telling of this world view. One is inseparable from the other.
Sergio Fausto, a sociologist, is Executive-Director of Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in São Paulo, and a member of GACINT, a public policy forum at the University of São Paulo. This article, originally published in daily Estado de S.Paulo, was translated into English by Brazil Institute interns Elizabeth Sweitzer and Laura Phelps.
* “neogolpismo”, roughly translated as “neocoupism” or “new coup” is a neologism which signifies an action meant to topple the president from retaining alleged institutional normality, in a different manner than a traditional coup.