360° Analysis

Paraguay’s Presidential Change and the Region’s Current Democratic Picture


July 22, 2012 10:16 EDT

The response to Lugo's impeachment from other Latin American statesmen has been dictated by economic necessity rather than commitment to democracy.

By Sean Burges

The reaction among other Latin American countries to the extremely questionable constitutional putsch in Paraguay appears based more on economic urgency than the defense of democracy. Although Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff condemned the government of Fernando Lugo’s ouster, they must be at least a little delighted by the June 22 events.

The Double Pretext

Just as Paraguay’s Colorado party used the clash that killed eleven peasants and six police officers as a pretext for impeaching Lugo, Brazil and Argentina have used Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur as a pretext to move forward on a number of key agreements within the South American trade pact.

The remaining Mercosur members recently approved Venezuela’s accession to the bloc and reignited talks of a Mercosur-China trade deal, previously off the table because of Paraguay’s strong diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Reaction from The Organization of American States (OAS) has been even more muted, with a somewhat odd mission of non-South American countries calling the situation “calm” and hoping that the organization will escape similar uproars to those encountered at the OAS’s recent Cochabamba general assembly.

Welcome to the Club

Further suspicions abound as to Mercosur’s use of Paraguay’s suspension as an opportunity to welcome Venezuela into the club. They have taken a rather self-serving and pragmatic approach to democracy.

Pundits have long attacked Venezuela for descending into authoritarianism through democratic means under Hugo Chávez. For these critics, the decidedly awkward question now being asked is how the dominant leaders of Mercosur — Dilma and Kirchner — will be able to reconcile the bloc’s well-established democratic credentials with the sort of political conduct attributed to Chávez by his detractors.

A Cynical Reading

While this is to a certain extent a cynical reading, the regional reactions seem to support it. Though Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur, keeping with the bloc’s democracy clause, this punishment did not extend to more serious economic sanctions. Trade continues and, more importantly for Brazil and Argentina, electricity from the giant Itaipú and Yacyretá hydroelectric complexes flows uninterrupted.

For his part, newly installed Paraguayan President Federico Franco couldn’t care less about participation in Mercosur, provided that trade, both legal and illegal, continues to flow across the porous triple border shared with Brazil and Argentina.

This shoddy commitment to the promotion and protection of democracy has drawn the ire of many commentators well versed in the region. The most recent blast comes from the Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer, who blames regional leaders for their “flexible” approach to constitutional procedure in Paraguay. He argues that these leaders have remained silent during “violations of democratic right in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba in recent years, [creating] a climate of ‘anything goes’ in the region.”

The Brazilian Intervention and the Bolivarian Sanction

Brazil’s passivity is surprising given the country’s strong, but unpublicized history of intervention on behalf of Paraguayan democratization. Such tactics have included closing smuggling routes across the border to pressure influential elites involved in the illicit market into safeguarding the democratic process. Others include more diplomatic vice-regal interventions conducted by Brazilian presidential representatives behind closed doors.

Where Brazil and Argentina have remained mild, Venezuela has been proactive. Chávez has gone beyond mere symbolism by cutting shipments of subsidized fuel to Paraguay. Kirchner and Dilma have simply excluded Franco from a meeting where he would have had less of a voice than Uruguay, whose protests over the whisking of Venezuela into the bloc were largely ignored.

The Devilish Details of “Forced Democracy”

Pressure to “force” a country down the democratic path requires massive political will and commitment from the imposing country or region. The simple reality is that the sort of internal dialogue necessary to support such an interventionist policy has not taken place in Argentina or Brazil.

Neighboring countries simply have not recognized the impact that democratic consolidation and sustained development in Paraguay would have on the security situation in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. Thus, foreign policy, even on a regional level, has remained an economic issue as much as anything else.
This analysis was prepared by Sean Burges, Senior Research Fellow, with contributions from Eric Stadius, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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