centuries of coups
PARAGUAYANS would seem to be under
the influence of a historical curse: more than two
centuries beset by coups. In a strange coincidence,
the first and the latest are related to the Church
and empires. In 1767, the Company of Jesus was
expelled from the land, when the Spanish crown
discovered that the Jesuits were sowing the first
seeds of an ideal which we now call socialism. In
2012, an oligarchic coup has deposed a former left-wing
bishop, President Fernando Lugo, who did not suit
imperial interests in South America.
The President was well aware that he
could suffer the same fate as the Jesuits. Distance
in time apart, he was repeating the same formula of
reductions: stimulating a sense of independence in
the people, and placing work, solidarity and
equality at the center of life. That was how the
town of San Ignacio Guasú was born in 1609, to be
followed by another 40 settlements around the
Paraná, Uruguay and Tape rivers. In a cold political
calculation, King Carlos III organized the coup
against the Jesuits, expelling those who taught the
people the right to insurrection.
THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE COUP (1865-1870)
The War of the Triple Alliance in
Paraguay was so excessive that the countries
involved in it prefer not to discuss it. Theories
abound as to the motives, but the majority point to
the interests of the British empire in the region.
Warfare between Brazil and Paraguay
began at the end of 1864. In early 1865, Argentina
and Uruguay entered the conflict, hence the War of
the Triple Alliance. At that time, Paraguay was
rising as an exception in Latin America: the only
nation which foreign capital had not deformed. There
were no large personal fortunes, hungry people or
beggars. The economy grew during the governments of
Carlos Antonio López and his son Francisco Solano
In 1865, when the drums of war could
be heard, Paraguay had a telegraphic line, a
railroad and a large number of factories
manufacturing construction materials, fabric, cloth,
ponchos, paper and ink, tiles and gunpowder. The
Ybycuí foundry produced cannons, mortars and multi-caliber
bullets. Despite lacking a sea exit, the country had
a merchant fleet, which flew the Paraguayan flag all
along the River Paraná and beyond.
For the imperialists, that was
heresy. They were also annoyed by the zealous
protectionism of national industry and the domestic
market. The inland rivers were not open to the
British vessels which bombarded the rest of Latin
America with manufactured goods from Manchester and
Liverpool. British traders did not disguise their
concern. The solid experience of Paraguayan national
resistance could spread to its neighbors.
It is not by chance that the
Argentine press, then in the hands of the oligarchy,
openly called for the assassination of Solano López.
In April of 1865, the Standard, a Buenos
Aires English newspaper, celebrated Argentina’s
declaration of war against Paraguay. For the British,
the alliance armies would take Asunción in three
months, but the war lasted five years and, more than
a war, it was a massacre. They never imagined that
Solano López would heroically embody the national
will to survive and far less that the Paraguayan
people would immolate themselves at his side.
What was the balance of losses? Just
250,000 Paraguayans, less than a sixth of the
population, survived the war. The winners, ruined by
the high cost of the crime, were left in the hands
of British bankers who financed the adventure.
Brazil annexed more than 60,000 square kilometers of
Paraguayan land and Argentina was left with 94,000
square kilometers. Uruguay took part in the war as a
junior partner and received no recompense.
OIL COMPANIES COUP IN CHACO (1932)
Another story of how transnational
interests took Paraguay to war: in 1932 Standard Oil
of New Jersey (based in Bolivia) and the Anglo-Dutch
Royal Dutch Shell (in Paraguayan territory) promoted
the bloody conflict known as the Chaco War. For
three years, Bolivia and Paraguay fought for control
of an extensive, arid and uninhabited area. Its
strategic value? A sea exit to the Atlantic.
Bolivia had already lost its sea
access during the War of the Pacific (1879). Now it
wanted to gain control over the River Paraguay,
which flows into the Atlantic. The discovery of
oilfields in the Andean pre-cordillera encouraged
the hypothesis that the Chaco also possessed
significant reserves. Thus began the first modern
war in Latin American history: an enormous
deployment of military equipment and munitions,
which cannot be compared with any other conflict in
the region, not even with the Malvinas War in 1982.
Approximately 250,000 Bolivian and
150,000 Paraguayan soldiers fought for control of
the Chaco. Malaria and other diseases were more
deadly than their bullets. The two countries were
ruined by the war. An end to hostilities was
declared in June of 1935, but the battle for the
control of oil wells continued until July 21, 1938,
when Argentine Foreign Minister Carlos Saavedra
Lamas, 1936 Nobel Peace laureate, mediated
brilliantly between the warring factions.
Years after the Chaco War, the
designs of behind the scenes manipulation on the
part of U.S. diplomacy were confirmed. Argentine
economist and historian Mario Rapoport states that
Spruille Braden, the U.S. ambassador in Buenos
Aires, was directly related to Standard Oil of
Bolivia, given that part of the land owned by the
company, founded in 1921, belonged to William Braden,
his father. In summary: two sister peoples went to
war, incited by an imperialist interest in
appropriating oil which did not belong to it.
THE ALFREDO STROESSNER COUP (1954)
Have you heard of the dictator
Alfredo Stroessner? In 1954 he was promoted to
Divisional General and, in May of the same year, the
U.S. government selected him to command the coup
which deposed Federico Chávez. And then he remained
comfortably in the presidency. He was "reelected"
for eight terms in fraudulent elections in which he
was the only candidate: 1958, 1963, 1968, 1973,
1978, 1983 and 1988.
As payment to his U.S. mentors, in
1955 Stroessner passed a law which established even
more privileged treatment for foreign capital.
American companies drew the most benefit from the
measure and began to almost completely control the
country’s politics, agriculture and finances. The "president"
took care of repression.
To the surprise of many, in the
early hours of February 3, 1989, Andrés Rodríguez
Pedotti overthrew Alfredo Stroessner in a coup
d’état, thus giving him a dose of his own medicine.
Rodríguez formed a provisional government, with the
backing of the Catholic Church and the U.S.
government. The new President jailed the dictator,
although a few days later dispatched him into a
golden exile in Brasilia. After all, Stroessner was
the father-in-law of one of his children and his
commercial partner. Three months after the coup,
Rodríguez convened general elections and won by a
THE ANTICIPATED COUP AGAINST
In 2008, just 18 days after assuming
the presidency of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo publicly
exposed a conspiracy plotted by former President
Nicanor León Duarte and General (r) Lino Oviedo, to
remove him from government by force. It was an early
signal or warning of the existence of "gorillas"
disposed to revive the experiences of the ‘60s and
‘70s. After four years of attempts, the Paraguay
coup organizers – a concentrated expression of the
oligarchy and the Stroessner system – consummated
Lugo was expelled from the
presidency via a lightning coup disguised as "constitutional."
Under instructions from the gringos, who enjoyed a
relative success in their Honduran rehearsal, the
Paraguayan Parliament (plagued by characters of
dubious capability and virtually no virtues)
orchestrated the ridiculous political trial of
President Lugo. Roy Chaderton, Venezuelan ambassador
to the OAS, defined them appropriately as a herd of
Now, why the coup against Lugo? For
Argentine intellectual Mempo Giardinelli, "Although
timidly, and not without contradictions and setbacks,
the Lugo government was coming to signify a more
than interesting change for the Paraguayan people,
subjected for years to atrocious dictatorships and a
recalcitrant violence. And perhaps it is for that
very reason, on account of the few and timid changes
that he has undertaken, that they want to overthrow
him. The coup plotters are seeking to bring down the
democratic government on account of its virtues, not
on account of its defects."
Lugo, a man with his own voice, who
did not conceal his sympathies for integration
processes in the region and tried to govern with the
people and not the political class, became a
dangerous president. The coup, in essence, is not
only against Lugo. It is also a coup against
agrarian reform in a country where 2% of proprietors
own 80% of the land. It is a coup against the
campesino and popular masses who had placed
their hopes in Lugo and are now trying to resist the
announced return of the Stroessner system.
What has taken place and what is to
come in Paraguay is distressing for everyone. The
pro-coup oligarchy is celebrating its booty. The
Colorado Party, happily speculating with the memory
of the heroes, displays at the foot of its
foundational document the signature of 22 traitors
of Marshall Solano López, "legionaries" in the
service of foreign occupying forces. It is these
same traitors to Paraguayan history who have
returned to government. There are more than enough
reasons for the Guaraní people to continue fighting.