Six weeks ago the left-leaning president of Paraguay Fernando Lugo was ousted in what some called an "institutional coup." Upset with Lugo for disrupting 61-years of one party rule, Paraguay's traditional ruling elite claimed he was responsible for a murky incident that left 17 peasants and police dead and the senate voted to impeach the president.
The vast majority of countries in the hemisphere refused to recognize the new government. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) suspended Paraguay's membership after Lugo's ouster, as did the MERCOSUR trading bloc. Last week the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported: "Not a single Latin American government has recognized [Federico] Franco's presidency."
But Canada was one of only a handful of countries in the world that immediately recognized the new government. "Canada notes that Fernando Lugo has accepted the decision of the Paraguayan Senate to impeach him and that a new president, Federico Franco, has been sworn in," said Diane Ablonczy, deputy foreign minister, the day after the coup. This statement was premature. After a confusing initial statement, Lugo rejected his ouster and announced the creation of a parallel government.
A week after the coup Stephan Harper's Conservatives participated in an Organization of American States mission that many member countries opposed. Largely designed to undermine those countries calling for Paraguay's suspension from the OAS, delegates from the US, Canada, Haiti, Honduras and Mexico traveled to Paraguay to investigate Lugo's removal from office. Ablonczy said the aim of the OAS mission was to "provide important context from Paraguay to inform international reaction. It is important that we avoid a rush to judgment and focus on the best interests of the Paraguayan people." The delegation concluded that the OAS should not suspend Paraguay, which displeased many South American countries.
In an interview three weeks after his ouster Lugo alluded to Ottawa's hostility. "With the current polarization between the United States, Canada and Mexico on one end and South America on the other, we have tried to find regional alternatives. The coup d'etat now attempts to attack the [South American] regional integration efforts." Both the Canadian Labour Congress and the newly formed international labour federation IndustriALL Global Union criticized the Conservatives move to recognize the new government.
On a couple of occasions the overthrown president has claimed Canadian economic interests contributed to the coup. "Those who pushed for the coup are those who want to solidify the negotiations with the multinational Rio Tinto Alcan, betraying the energetic sovereignty and interests of our country," Lugo told his supporters one month after the coup. IndustriALL Global Union concurred with the president, sending a letter to the CEO of Rio Tinto. "Rio Tinto, which has a legendary association with the government of Canada, has been quick off the mark to resume negotiations on behalf of Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan for a $4 billion aluminum plant," wrote Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union. The labour federation called on "Rio Tinto to publicly disclose its interest and involvement, if any, in the coup d'état in Paraguay and the ousting of a legitimately elected democratic government of Fernando Lugo."
In 2010 Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, began lobbying the Paraguayan government for subsidized electricity to set up a massive aluminum plant near the Paraná River. The company was seeking a 30-year contract that could cost Paraguay's government hundreds of millions of dollars and they received Ottawa's backing. According to international media reports, the Canadian embassy in Buenos Aires, which is in charge of this country's diplomatic relations in Paraguay, lobbied the government on Rio Tinto Alcan's behalf.
The Lugo government was divided over the project, which would consume more energy than the country's entire 6.5 million population and damage the environment in various other ways. Three weeks before Lugo's ouster Vice-President Federico Franco, who represented an opposition party, complained to Ultima Hora newspaper: "I told the President of the Republic (Lugo): why did you send me to Canada to study the [aluminum] project if, finally, a Deputy Minister (Mercedes Canese) was going to oppose it." After the coup the vice-president became president and Franco announced that negotiations with Rio Tinto Alcan would be fast tracked.
Harper's Conservatives must be happy.
Yves Engler's the author of a number of books. His most recent is Lester Pearson's Peacekeeping: the truth may hurt.
This article was first published by iPolitics and is reprinted here with permission.
Thank you for reading this story...
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.
If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.
We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing.