The Next Honduras

While I was off gallivanting in England, Paraguay had a coup.

Mind you, the oligarchs who staged the coup against populist Fernando Lugo cloaked it in legalistic niceties–though they’re about as convincing as (and may have taken their cue from) the Clinton impeachment.

But those legalistic niceties are not persuading Paraguay’s neighbors, who are  considering ways to pressure the government in response.

Neighboring leftist governments were rallying to support Mr. Lugo. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner called the impeachment process a coup and recalled her country’s ambassador to Paraguay “until democratic order is re-established,” the foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday.

Regional economic powerhouse Brazil condemned the impeachment and called back its ambassador for consultations while it weighs its response. The blistering pace of the impeachment proceedings didn’t give Mr. Lugo a chance to prepare an adequate defense, compromising “the fundamental pillar of democracy,” Brazil’s foreign ministry said in a statement. The Brazilian statement said that “the rupture of the democratic order in Paraguay” would be evaluated by regional trade and political groups, including Mercosur, a trade bloc comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

What’s most striking to me is the widespread recognition–even at the WSJ–that this bears similarities to the 2009 Honduran coup.

Mr. Lugo’s impeachment raises the specter of a repetition of the long diplomatic hiatus that followed the coup that deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Honduras wasn’t readmitted to the Organization of American States until mid-2011.

Which makes Democracy Now guest Greg Grandin’s comments about those similarities particularly worth noting.

GREG GRANDIN: Well, it was interesting. The first interview, I take, was before the Honduran coup in 2009, when Lugo said that a coup would be unthinkable. And so, Honduras—it shows you how Honduras kind of changes the rules of the game, emboldened the right, presented new tactic, new ways of limiting this kind of—

[snip]

AMY GOODMAN: Or I should say President Obama, initially, actually, said that it was not legitimate.

GREG GRANDIN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But then they—

GREG GRANDIN: But then, eventually, legitimated it over a long, torturous process. In the case of Paraguay, the administration’s response has been—to call it tepid would be an overstatement. It really has been silent, for the most part. Latin American countries, South American countries, including conservative countries like Chile and Colombia, have come out very strongly against it. So, again, you see this great divergence between the U.S. and between South America and Latin America.

It’ll be interesting to see. I mean, the two things to look out for is, one is if military aid to the Paraguayan military will—army will continue—the U.S. is a supplier of much material and financial support to security forces in Paraguay—and, two, if it will take advantage of the crisis to go forward with a long-sought military base in the region, which the Pentagon, SOUTHCOM, has wanted for a while. I think those are the two things to look out for.

That is, Honduras both laid the foundation for this latest coup, and Obama’s silence here seems to repeat his capitulation (to a lot of far right wing pressure here in the US) after the coup that ousted Zelaya.

And then there’s the basing. Since the Honduras coup we’ve installed a Foward-Operating Base and started facilitating the shooting of civilians (ostensibly by accident). Not only will the US be able to use the same excuse of war on drugs in Paraguay, but it will also point to terrorism–the Igazu Falls area has long been alleged to host terrorists. And based on that we’ll plop a base amongst the populist countries that are increasingly skeptical of US hegemony of late.

Sure, maybe that isn’t the point behind this coup. But it sure seems a convenient way to warn and threaten Latin American populists.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

30 replies
  1. Adam Colligan says:

    When is an impeachment a coup? Who decides the difference between “law” and “legalistic niceties”? You seem to imply that had Clinton lost his trial it would have been some kind of coup rather than just a cynical political use of legitimate and legal Constitutional authority. It’s not news that uses of authority tend to be cynical and political.

    OED definition: “a sudden and decisive stroke of state policy; spec. a sudden and great change in the government carried out violently or illegally by the ruling power.”

    Here’s the Paraguayan Constitution: http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/pa00000_.html

    Certainly, the procedure of Article 225 was followed. Note that the standard of finding in the Senate is not just crime, as in the US, but also “malfeasance” or whatever the translation is, as a distinctly weaker threshold. The votes were 76-1 and 39-4 if EN Wikipedia is to be believed.

    The dispute seems to be about Article 17 and the time allocated to Lugo’s defense. He says it wasn’t enough (and I think most reasonable people would agree with him). But who decides what is enough? Presumably the Supreme Court, because they ruled on the matter and sided with the legislature. We can play armchair supreme court all day, and say that it’s wrong (and should have been unconstitutional) to rule with the impeachment process unless the defense time is two days, two weeks, or two months (and we might be right). But that wasn’t the decision that came down. I don’t see how the constitution has been violated here when the two other branches are in formal agreement about the process, and so long as it hasn’t been, I don’t understand why it’s being called a coup.

    The checks on purely political impeachments are the requirement for supermajorities and the need of legislators to face elections. Provided the legislative elections remain free and fair, then people can kick out their deputies and senators if they don’t like this use of impeachment power. The check isn’t, and shouldn’t be, an appeal to popular or global opinion about whether it was the wrong thing to do and therefore somehow a “coup.”

    I think Bush v. Gore may have been the wrong constitutional decision, but it’s wrong to call it a coup because it was within the constituional authority of the court to rule that way. Likewise the Clinton impeachment, even if it had succeeded.

    The constitution says that Lugo is guilty if 2/3 of both chambers says he is. And the trial process is legitimate if the supreme court says it is. People certainly have grounds for calling what happened “bullshit,” but a much higher burden should be placed on claims that it was a coup.

  2. lysias says:

    @emptywheel: The way Hitler became Chancellor at the head of a coalition cabinet was hardly an abuse of the legal process. The way he then seized absolute power and became a dictator did involve wholesale abuse of the legal process.

  3. Adam Colligan says:

    @emptywheel: You’re implying that it’s just a matter of semantics whether you call something a “coup” or a “legal but probably bullshit political move that lucks out in the courts.”

    It’s not. If there has been a coup against a democratic constitutional order, then that carries with it a concomitant loss of international legitimacy and diplomatic relations, uncertainty about who should be in charge of security forces, interruption of contracts and loans, etc., etc.

    None of those things should accompany a legal but probably bullshit political move. The constitutional authority is in tact. Other nations retain the obligation to respect the law of the country in question, with the usual caveat that it’s not conducting some kind of serious-scale human rights violations. The voters will head to the polls on their usual schedule, and they can choose to throw out the legislators that conducted the impeachment. They can vote in people to amend the constitution to make future impeachments harder if they think the last one was too easy.

    Other leftist regimes on the continent are using the word “coup” specifically because it carries this actionable significance that a legal transfer of power, political bullshit or no, does not.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @Adam Colligan: Due process is not a human right anymore?

    Granted, it’s become “quaint” in this country. But it is, in fact, a value we once held dear.

  5. Adam Colligan says:

    @emptywheel: We don’t sever diplomatic relations with countries or cast their chains of command into doubt because one guy gets fired from his job in a process that 90+% of a democratic legislature, plus a supreme court, endorse.

    It’s wrong to equate one rushed but legal impeachment, a process that is necessarily political, with the kind of wholesale violations of basic rights that would, or should, actually cause us to sanction or isolate a democratic country.

    What I was saying was that if one accepts the obligation to respect a democratic constitutional order, one of course still does not give up the right to delegitimize that order if it is doing something terribly heinous. If a country elects some Nazi-like party and democratically decides to amend its constitution to allow redheads to be hunted for sport, it’s right to say that we’re beyond the issue of what’s democratic or legally legitimate and into the realm of what’s wrong beyond the pale. Lugo having a sad about how his impeachment hearing went doesn’t deserve to be placed anywhere near that kind of scenario.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @Adam Colligan: I’m not sure I said the return of the Nazis equates with the oligarchs returning to power in Paraguay. My main interest is in the way the Oligarchs are picking off countries in Latin American to roll back the populism that is one of the biggest ideological threats to US neoliberal capitulation to oligarchs that MAY be accompanying a rise of US militarism there. I find that interesting. I take it you don’t.

    Fair enough. I appreciate your comments.

  7. MadDog says:

    @Adam Colligan: Your argument is too simplistic to gain much traction.

    In essence you argue that if illegitimate interests use legitimate means to obtain their desired results, we must accept its overall legitimacy.

    A further extension of that same argument is that if democratic means are used to accomplish undemocratic endeavors, then that satisfies the requirements of democracy.

    To adhere blindly to such an argument is a fine example of reductio ad absurdum.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Nah, I don’t think it’s simplistic. The question is whether an external entity has the right to judge the internal process of another country to be adequate or not.

    I think both arguments can be defended. The due process thing justifies the term, IMO–if there was such widespread support for this then Lugo should have been given time for a defense.

    But like I said, my overriding interest here is in the oligarchic role here.

  9. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: I understand your point, but here’s why I found the argument simplistic.

    If one assumes for the sake of discussion here that anything accomplished by democratic means results in uncontroverted good, then it must be the case that what was accomplished with the original US Constitution was all good.

    That includes people of color being considered as chattels of their owners. That includes the proposition that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

    Plainly these things are not morally or ethically “good”.

    My point regarding simplicity is that one shouldn’t get lost in the “logic” of one’s argument and ignore the outcome.

    Democratic means ≠ necessarily moral or ethical results.

  10. Adam Colligan says:

    @MadDog: I think that if illegitimate interests use legitimate means to achieve illegitimate ends, then it is important for observers with integrity to condemn their interests and their ends as illegitimate while acknowledging that their means were legitimate.

  11. JThomason says:

    Constitutionalism as an adequate benchmark has been under fire for some time now. Within the last decade the Harvard Law Review has published an article suggesting that super-legislation has surpassed Constitutional reference in the unfolding of legal developments in the US. Still the issues of fundamental fairness transcend any type of framework used to define and establish governance.

    The transition to a new language of fairness is well underway and the inequities brought to light in the global scope of the push back against corporatism and neo-feudalism is framing the emergent dialogue.

    Diplomatic manners while necessary are not leading the emergent tools for conceiving and describing power and justice. I see no reason why EW or anyone posting on here should be bound by such terms.

  12. MadDog says:

    @Adam Colligan: LOL! Ok, you’re with the program.

    The characterization that this was a “coup” I suppose depends on the eye of the beholder.

    One of the points that Wikipedia brings up regarding the usage of the words “coup d’état“, is the following:

    “…It is to be noted that in the latest years there has been a broad use of the phrase in mass media, which may contradict the legal definition of coup d’état…”

    Additionally, the Latin American countries that EW referred to have real hands-on experience with coups and I would tend to guess more than a little sensitivity to sudden changes in government leadership.

    All in all, I guess I’m still in the coup camp with EW, but each is entitled to his or her own opinion with regard to Paraguay.

  13. Adam Colligan says:

    @JThomason: Three issues on “diplomatic manners”

    1. What I said about the international reaction to a coup was normative, not just about diplomatic tradition: I should have been more clear. That is what countries should do when they acknowledge there’s a real coup. When there’s a constitutional transfer of power, they should in general acknowledge the new government and move on.

    2. The tragedy of diplomatic manners arises when people call something what it isn’t, or refuse to call something what it is, because they do not want to have to react in the appropriate or accepted way. Classic case: when the U.S. did not want to get heavily involved with Sudan and so said that events in Sudan were “tantamount to genocide” because calling them “genocide” would have created the onus for some sort of concrete action.

    From this perspective, “diplomatic manners” is actually what you are doing. You are first choosing how you want to react: since you don’t like the substance of the new government (it’s run by “oligarchs”), you want to oppose it and you don’t want it to have legitimacy. You then go back and choose the description of what happened that most suits that reaction (it was a “coup”). And I would agree that people writing here shouldn’t feel bound by diplomatic manners: after all, we’re not about to create immediate real-world consequences by calling a spade a spade. So that’s why there’s even *less* of an excuse to do it here: you are free to say that you don’t think the new government is legitimate because of its right-wing politics even while acknowledging that it did not come to power through a coup. Real diplomats generally don’t have that luxury, so I think you should take advantage of it.

    3. The Harvard Law Review notwithstanding, I believe that in general people have the right to vote on how they think fundamental fairness should be achieved in their countries’ budgets and policies. That is not to say by any means that outsiders should not question or criticize it. It’s perfectly fine if you want to say that Paraguayans are idiots for voting for a legislative supermajority that you think just represents the interests of “oligarchs” — in other words, to say that you think Paraguayans have voted against their own interest.

    But when it comes down to who has the legitimacy to govern, you don’t get to use processes reserved for the treatment of coup-installed, undemocratic governments to substitute your view of what’s in someone’s interest for their view, as expressed in the vote that they cast. It’s like the “democracy being imposed on Iraq” silliness all over again: people get so determined to oppose right-wing, oligarchic, US neoliberal imperialism that, if they associate a democratic constitutional process with either the US or right-wing interests, they actually start opposing democratic processes in order to “protect” people from the yoke of the oppressor. But that’s madness: a person’s vote is the only thing that can legitimately announce to the world who she thinks the real oppressor is and whether or not she likes the yoke. And it’s her opinion that counts, even though you are certainly entitled to call her an idiot or a sheep. To delegitimize the resulting government is to commit the very act of colonialist interference from which you claim to be protecting people.

  14. emptywheel says:

    @Adam Colligan: Would you say the same about Karzai’s most recent election?

    There is some evidence that the democratic elections in Iraq weren’t. THere is abundant evidence that Karzais was not.

  15. Adam Colligan says:

    @emptywheel: I definitely agree that if elections are not free and fair, what I wrote above does not necessarily apply, or at least it has to be balanced against the extent to which you think people have not been able to vote their conscience. Everything I’ve said about Paraguay could be put after the phrase: “Assuming that the legislative elections in Paraguay have been and will continue to be generally free and fair,…”

  16. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Imagine. An oligopolist-led coup against a populist government. In Latin America. The few taking government from the many, and returning it to themselves. What would American foreign policy be without one of those every year or two?

    I guess it’s OK every now and then for the people to spectate over what happens in government, so long as they sit quietly having exhausted themselves from working two jobs or entertain themselves with soft porn and “reality” tv. The minute they actually think about participating in it, to change its outcomes, it becomes an existential threat to the universe.

    Imagine what would happen in the US if the people actually demanded the right to participate in their own government, to demand outcomes favorable to their lives, their families, their careers, their educations, their health care and economic safety. The Kochs, the Waltons, the Romneys and Obamas would have more than a fit. They would declare a state of emergency because a risk to their dominance exists, and they would take off the gloves. Anyone paying attention might observe that their gloves have been off for quite some time.

  17. Phoenix Woman says:

    @Adam Colligan:

    Read the links in my first comments. The people that ousted him are members of the Stroessner-controlled Colorado Party that ran Paraguay with an iron fist for three decades, until a few years ago reformist forces called for and got the first free elections in over half a century.

  18. Phoenix Woman says:

    @emptywheel:

    I definitely find it interesting, particularly considering what we in essence signed off on in Honduras and are actively cheerleading in Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia, not to mention Brazil.

    Isn’t it interesting that the US’ best friend in the entire region is the deeply corrupt and violent right-wing narcostate of Colombia?

  19. pdaly says:

    And Bush own acres and acres of land (and aquifer) in Paraguay. I assume this change in government only improves his position there.

  20. please says:

    @Adam Colligan: @16
    “I think that if illegitimate interests use legitimate means to achieve illegitimate ends, then it is important for observers with integrity to condemn their interests and their ends as illegitimate while acknowledging that their means were legitimate.”

    The very use of legitimate means towards illegitimate ends by illegitimate interests corrupts the very means you ascribe to within that context. This is textbook example of what’s been done to whitewash astonishing incidents of human atrocities.

    The argument hinges a bit on what you consider legitimate. I prefer to think that because human law isn’t created outside the bounds of human morality, legitimacy must be considered within that context as well.

    So even if a court through legitimate means condemns an innocent man to die, the means have been perverted. Whatever you chose to call it is irrelevant.

  21. karenjj2 says:

    so now bush-carlyle corp will get its own u.s. funded military base to “protect” it. how cool is that?!

    once they get the TPP “legitimized,” their global domination will be assured.

    convenient that cia-bush’s iran-contra has developed into another secure u.s. funded base of ops for carlyle group as well.

    wonder if bush made a deal with china when he was “ambassador” to give them that hemisphere while reserving the americas and africa for his heirs and assigns.

    do the saudis get middle east?

    would love to see how cheney’s secret “energy map of 2001” fits in.

  22. Gitcheegumee says:

    @earlofhuntingdon:

    Earl, I have long said that the American public,for the most part(imho) view themselves firstly as consumers,NOT as citizens.Corporatist propaganda has been,and continues to be, penultimately effective.

    As such, it is paradoxical to me that so few “consumers” willingly accept such short shrift . Of course you have to have a receipt for a return,and there are no paper trails at the voting booth,now are there?

  23. Gitcheegumee says:

    @karenjj2:

    If you have not seen it, it may be worth your while,as much of what you are commentiing on,has related content that you would find of interest,imho.

    A most excellent and related thread was posted by EW last August, with the thread topic most germane to the discussion at hand…particularly the Carlyle Group and Panama commentaries. Very much worth a trip down memory lane,imho:

    Yet More Proof Big Business Is Unamerican | emptywheel
    http://www.emptywheel.net/…/yet-more-proof-big-business-isnt-american-

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