On Friday, June 15, clashes erupted in a rural area of northern Paraguay between the military and landless farmers who had occupied parts of a large estate. In the event, 17 were killed. The following week, on June 22, the Paraguayan parliament swiftly removed president Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop associated in Paraguay with the cause of landless farmers. Lugo had promised a land reform and redistribution when he took office in 2008, but the reform never came to be, largely because of the entrenched interests of large landowners and their alliance with international agribusiness. These are the very interests that took out Lugo.
In the international coverage of the unfolding crisis, the part about the conflict between farmers and landowners has fallen to the side. To be sure, most reports on the story mention the events of June 15 and their larger context, but only in passing. Instead, the conversation has centered on whether or not the parliament’s action should be considered a “coup”. The story is told not within the context of the actual situation in Paraguay, but rather as a part of a Homeric epic drawn up by professors at U.S. universities (or the charlatans at the State Department) on the trials and tribulations of South America’s “transition to democracy”. Democratic procedure is an important part of the story, no doubt, but isn’t it superficial to completely forget about the deeper forces at work, and the real conflicts driving the current drama of “democratization”? Leave it to the media, though, to be superficial.
One perfect case in point comes from Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer, who wrote a piece entitled “Region shares blame for Paraguayan crisis”. Given Miami’s own particular relationship to Latin America, we should expect nothing but right-wing apologetics, and, indeed, Oppenheimer largely fits the bill. On the topic of the Paraguayan crisis, Oppenheimer can do nothing but complain that left-leaning Latin American leaders don’t get as much bad press as right-leaning ones. You will note that he’s not even really discussing Paraguay, much less the country’s internal dynamics and the land crisis.
Both the International Finance Corporation (or IFC, which is part of the World Bank) and indigenouspeoplesissues.com agree — in completely opposite ways, naturally — that agribusiness is the leading motive force undergirding the economic situation of today’s Paraguay. In a nutshell, agribusiness is the most important sector of the Paraguayan economy from the standpoint of export commodities, and yet from the standpoint of landless farmers, it is the direct cause of why they find it increasingly difficult to grow food for themselves. The whole situation is a classic example of the conflicts involved in the transition toward an economy based on the production of commodities. It is, really, a textbook case, but not one which accords with the specific type of textbooks used in Political Science departments.
What nobody seems to be talking about, therefore, is the most simple part of the story. Yes, the “parliamentary coup” does have deep implications for the Paraguayan political system, and the fallout within Mercosur could have broad implications, as well. But why is it that everyone seems to be missing the key point: In Paraguay today, different factions within the government and society are fighting over access to the means of production. In this case, the “means of production” is land, as there aren’t all that many factories to fight over.
Why does “political analysis” ignore the most important parts of the story? Perhaps that’s precisely because it’s political analysis, in every possible meaning that one could infer from the term.