Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Honduras Was The Template

You probably haven't heard much on your nightly news about a coup in Paraguay. There's rarely any news about Paraguay in English.

What should interest readers of this blog, the "coup" in Paraguay on June 22 was patterned after the Honduran coup of 2009. Only this one was slightly less bumbling.

While regional governments sent diplomatic missions to Paraguay to try and avoid the constitutional showdown between the Paraguayan Senate and President Fernando Lugo, the US State Department just watched.

So what actually happened?

On June 22, the Paraguayan House and Senate each held a trial on 5 charges of misconduct against President Lugo, less than 24 hours after notifying him they intended to bring charges.  The charges were spelled out in a resolution (formulated by the Paraguayan House of Representatives) in which they accused him of doing his job badly, one of the three conditions under which the Paraguayan constitution states call for an impeachment hearing.

The charges?
(1)  Allowing a political youth gathering financed by the government in a military base in 2009.
(2)  Facilitating and supporting the invasion of private lands by landless peasants in Nacunday.
(3)  Dissatisfaction with the state of public security, linking Lugo to leftist kidnapping groups and accusing him of maintaining an incompetent Interior Minister responsible for 17 deaths.
(4)  Signing the Protocol de Ushuaia II in "an attempt against the sovereignty of Paraguay".  The document, in which the governments of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) agree to support democracy in their fellow countries, would allow regional governments (as part of a policy to return an errant state to democracy) to "cut off electric power" to Paraguay.
(5)  In the case of 17 deaths in Curuguaty (on June 15), he showed the "inoperativeness of his government, the negligence, ineptitude, and improvisation....which merits his charging by the House of Representatives with bad job performance."

There was no investigation of the charges by either the House or Senate in Paraguay.  Indeed, the House resolution, under the heading "Proof That Substantiates the Charges"  writes:
All of the above charges are of public notoriety, and because of this it is not necessary they be proven, according to the laws in effect.

The Spanish is "son de publica notoriedad (public notoriety)", similar to the Spanish colonial form of "publico y notorio (public and well known)" which was often used to make a claim of truthfulness for something that was not actually attested to by witnesses.  If it was "publico y notorio" that meant everyone knew it to be true, therefore they didn't need to have people swear it was true. It didn't actually mean something was undeniably true.  It was shorthand for "we take this as a given".

Take the story that Americans are all taught in grade school, that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and then owned up to it when asked.  That was invented by Washington biographer  Mason Locke Weems in 1800.  We all know it, it's of public notoriety, but its not true.

Indeed, InsightCrime actually debunked one of the charges, number 3, linking Lugo to the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP), a leftist group accused of kidnapping, four days before charges were levied against Lugo. Author Elyssa Pachico noted that linking farmers' movements to organized crime is a standard practice in Latin America for discrediting agrarian reformers, and specifically cited the Honduran case of attempts to discredit MUCA in the Bajo Aguan as similar.  The charge may well have been of "public notariety" but it wasn't true, according to InsightCrime.

On June 22, the Paraguayan Congress voted 76-1 in the House, and 39 - 4 in the Senate to uphold the charges and impeach Fernando Lugo after giving him just two hours to mount a defense.  It may have followed the letter of the constitution, if you ignore any requirements for due process. That was completely lacking.

As other regional governments tried to intervene diplomatically to avoid the impeachment hearing, and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next door in Brazil, the US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, in response to a question from the press said:
My understanding is that the Secretary took a shouted question, I think, down in Rio about an hour ago. I just got a brief message. And her response was that we are concerned and we’re watching the situation closely. Obviously, we want to see any resolution of this matter be consistent with democracy in Paraguay and the Paraguayan constitution.

Four of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) countries (Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina) have withdrawn their diplomatic representatives with Paraguay, perhaps in adherence to what they promised to do as part of the Ushuaia II protocol, UNASUR's equivalent of the OAS Democratic Charter.

Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic have also said they will not recognize the new government.  Mexico, Colombia, and Chile all said they regretted that Lugo had not been given adequate time to prepare a defense.  The Interamerican Commission on Human Rights said of Lugo's removal that it was "an attack on the legal foundations of the state."

Yet spokesperson Darla Jordan, from the State Department's Western Hemisphere Affairs division, simply said:
We urge all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility, in the spirit of Paraguay's democratic principles.

Just as in the Honduran case, we have a coup government installed in Paraguay that all surrounding countries refuse to recognize as legitimate, but which the State Department has not condemned.  Like Honduras, this was a coup supported by the elite, against a President popular with the poor.  Like Honduran de facto regime head Micheletti, the de facto head of Paraguay, Federico Franco, has vowed to gain international recognition again for Paraguay by the time the next government takes over, about a year from now.

In Honduras 2009, a template was formed for how to stage a successful coup in the 21rst century.   Paraguayan elites followed the template.

This assessment was echoed by Fernando Anduray, presidential candidate for the Authentic Nationalist movement of the Nationalist Party in Honduras. He says that what happened in Paraguay is just like what happened in Honduras in 2009. In fact, he called for the Honduran Congress to use similar procedures to throw out unnamed government officials who abuse their positions; this despite the fact that the Honduran constitution does not allow for this procedure.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa disagrees with Anduray.  In an official release he rejected events in Paraguay and said:
We Hondurans defend the full respect of the democratic institution and rule of law, and for this reason we declare that the political judgement carried out did not attend to the right of legitimate defense of every citizen.

Would that be the same "right of defense" denied to Manuel Zelaya in 2009?


boz said...

But there are some really important differences. In Paraguay, there was a governing crisis that played out among the civilian institutions. The vote took place in Congress and then President Lugo acknowledged he was no longer president, even if he thought the process was unconstitutional and violated his right to a defense.

In Honduras, there was an ongoing constitutional crisis between the various branches of government. Then the military stepped in and threw out the president at gunpoint. Then the Micheletti people tried to justify the event post-hoc with some less than legitimate legal documents.

The events in Honduras 2009 were quite clearly a coup. The events in Paraguay have some undemocratic aspects, but don't reach the level of Honduras.

RAJ said...

I think we can agree that the Paraguayan execution of removal of the president did not repeat the egregious aspects of the Honduran coup. But we would suggest the differences don't quite line up as easily as this comparison.

Remember, in Honduras, Congress was far into a process to impeach President Zelaya earlier in the week, when someone apparently noticed that they no longer had a constitutional right to impeach. What has become the conventional description of the Honduran coup now leaves out everything before Friday-- the date put on what are now widely acknowledged to be back-dated papers purporting to have been handed down by the Supreme Court.

That leads us to the second apparent contrast. In Honduras, when the Congress realized it no longer had the constitutional power of impeachment, the third branch of government came back into center stage. President Zelaya and the Supreme Court had been engaged, with the facilitation of public prosecutor Luis RubĂ­, in what we might call a slow playing out of a constitutional confrontation that was always intended to end in the charging of the president with major crimes to remove him from office. The back-dated charges, insofar as they had any content, manufactured that content from previous court decisions against Zelaya.

So we would suggest that Honduras provided guidance to other Latin American countries on how, and how not, to use the other branches of government against a president with whom they disagree politically.

Notable points of comparison include the odd nature of the "crimes" of which both were accused: Zelaya, remember, was at one point accused of publically displaying a small child as a shocking violation of law. (Not.)

The denial of due process in both cases is also worth foregrounding. What that due process would be, in both cases, was a defense: a defense against "charges" that melt away under analysis.

And what Paraguay may be said to have learned from the Honduran crisis is: don't let the military get involved.

The facts on the ground in the two countries are, of course, different. But at the end of the day, I think you and we might agree that the Honduran coup, and the survival of the de facto regime, followed by the ease of cleansing of the successor government created an atmosphere in which restraints that were largely successful in stopping such events for about two decades are no longer to be taken for granted.

In Honduras, we must note, the successor government treated as the legal representative of the Honduran people by the US includes numbers of people appointed to positions under the de facto regime; and carries on policies that reduce due process and civil rights that were started under the regime. What Honduran elites learned from the coup is that using the forms of government, even abusively, is all that is needed to stay in power.