The United States, Venezuela and Paraguay

Brazilian diplomat and professor Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães analyses how US foreign policy in South America has suffered unexpected consequences from the Paraguayan coup d'état, particuarly the entry of Venezuela into the Mercosur bloc. He argues,  “The question of Paraguay is the question of Venezuela, and of the dispute over economic and political influence in South America”.


US foreign policy in South America has suffered unexpected consequences from the Paraguayan coup d’état, as a result of the impatience of the perpetrators of the coup to seize power without waiting for the elections in April 2013.  Now they are calling on all their allies to try to overturn the decision of the admittance of Venezuela [to Mercosur].  The question of Paraguay is the question of Venezuela, and of the dispute over economic and political influence in South America.

The conservative media came out in force to help the neo-coup perpetrators.

1.  It is not possible to understand the ins and outs of South American politics without taking US policies regarding Latin America into account.  The United States is still the principal political actor in South America and we must begin with a description of its objectives.

2.  In South America, the central strategic objective of the United States, which, in spite of having lost some ground, is still the biggest political, military, economic and cultural power in the world, is to incorporate all the countries of the region into its economy.  This economic incorporation necessarily involves a political lining up of the weakest countries with the United States in negotiations and in international crises.

3.  The tactical instrument employed by the U.S. to attain this objective is the legal adoption, by the countries of South America, of norms for greater liberalization of commerce, finance and investment, services and “protection” of intellectual property, through the negotiation of regional and bilateral agreements.

4.  This is a historic and permanent strategic objective.  One of its first manifestations occurred in 1889 in the first International American Conference, which took place in Washington, when the United States, already the biggest industrial power in the world, proposed the negotiation of a free trade agreement in the Americas and the adoption, by all the countries of the region, of a common currency: the U.S. dollar.

5.  Other moments in this strategy were the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Canada,  NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement, which includes Canada and Mexico), the proposed creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas — FTAA; and, finally, bilateral agreements with Chile, Peru, Colombia and the Central American countries.

6.  In this hemispheric context, the main objective of the United States is to incorporate Brazil and Argentina, the two principal industrial economies of South America, into this cluster of bilateral free trade areas. In such a free trade area the rules respecting movement of capital, foreign investment, commercial protection, relations between foreign investors and nation states would not only be the same, but would allow full freedom of action for multinational mega-corporations and would reduce to a minimum the capacity of nation states to promote their own development, even if this were capitalist development, and the ability to protect and develop their enterprises (and national capital) as well as their work forces.

7.  The existence of Mercosur [the Common Market of the South], whose premise is to give preference in their markets to companies (national or foreign) established in the territories of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay with respect to companies that exist outside these territories, and which aims to expand by building a common economic area, is incompatible with the US objective of a general liberalization of trade in goods, services, capital, etc., for the benefit of their mega-enterprises, which are obviously much more powerful than the South American ones.

8.  Additionally, a vital political and economic objective for the United States is to ensure energy supply for their economy, since they import 11 million barrels of crude oil daily, 20% of which comes from the Persian Gulf, an area marked by extraordinary instability, turbulence and conflict.

9.  US companies were responsible for the development of the petroleum sector in Venezuela from the 1920s.  On the one hand, Venezuela traditionally supplied oil to the United States, and on the other hand they imported equipment for the oil industry and consumer goods for their population, including food.

10.  With the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, his decision to give a new direction to (economic and political) foreign policy towards South America (i.e. principally, though not exclusively, to Brazil), as well as building infrastructure and diversifying the agricultural and industrial economy of the country, was to sever the deep dependence of Venezuela on the US.

11. This Venezuelan decision, which clashed directly with the strategic objective of US foreign policy to guarantee access to sources of energy that were secure and close to the US, became even more important at the moment when Venezuela became the country with the greatest oil reserves [in the world], precisely at a time when the Middle East is becoming more unstable.

12.  From that moment a media campaign on a global and regional scale was unleashed against President Chavez and against Venezuela, demonizing him and characterizing him as a dictator, authoritarian, enemy of press freedom, populist, demagogue, etc.  Venezuela, according to the media, is not a democracy.  And they created a “theory” according to which, even though a president had been democratically elected, he, by “not governing democratically” becomes a dictator and hence could be overthrown.  Indeed, there was already an attempted coup in 2002 and the first leaders to recognize the “government” that emerged from the coup in Venezuela were George W. Bush and José María Aznar [the Spanish president at the time of the coup].

13. As President Chavez began to diversify his petroleum exports, mainly to China, taking Russia’s place in energy supply to Cuba, and began to support progressive democratically elected governments, such as those of Bolivia and Ecuador, which had begun to confront the oligarchies of wealth and power, the attacks multiplied, orchestrated by the media of the region (and of the world).

14. This happened in spite of the fact that there were no doubts as to the democratic legitimacy of President Chavez, who from 1998 has faced twelve elections which were considered free and legitimate by international observers, including the Carter Centre, the UN and the OEA.

15.  In 2001, Venezuela first presented their request to join Mercosur.  In 2006, after the conclusion of technical negotiations, the Protocol of Adhesion of Venezuela was signed by presidents Chavez, Lula, Kirchner, Tabaré and Nicanor Duarte of Paraguay, member of the Colorado Party.  Then the process began of ratification of the admittance of Venezuela by the Congresses of the four countries involved, accompanied by a conservative press campaign, which raised concerns about the problem of the ‘future’ of Mercosur which, under the influence of Chavez, could, according to the campaign, “adversely affect” international negotiations of the bloc, etc.

The is the same press that habitually criticized Mercosur and promoted the celebration of free trade agreements with the United States, with the European Union, etc., if possible through bilateral negotiations, and which regarded Mercosur as an impediment for the full insertion of the countries involved in the world economy; and suddenly became worried about the “survival” of the Mercosur bloc.

16.  Approved by the Congresses of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, the admittance of Venezuela came to depend on the Paraguayan Senate, dominated by conservative parties representing the rural oligarchies and the “informal trade” sector, that began to exercise a veto power, influenced in part by their permanent opposition to President Fernando Lugo, against whom they had attempted to initiate 23 “impeachment” processes since his mandate began in 2008.

17.  The admittance of Venezuela to Mercosur is likely to have four consequences: to deter the “removal” of President Chavez through a coup d’état; to impede the eventual re-incorporation of Venezuela, with its enormous economic and energy potential, into the US economy; to strengthen Mercosur and make it even more attractive for the adhesion of the other countries of South America; and to hinder the permanent project of the United States for the creation of a free trade agreement with Latin America, through the eventual “fusion” of bilateral trade agreements, one example being the Pacific Alliance agreement.

18.  So the rejection by the Paraguayan Senate of approval for the admittance of Venezuela to Mercosur became a fundamental strategic question for US policy in South America.

19.  The political leaders of the Colorado Party, which was in power in Paraguay for sixty years, until the election of Lugo, and the leaders of the Liberal Party, which participated in the Lugo government, had no doubt assumed that the sanctions against Paraguay as a consequence of the impeachment of Lugo would be mainly political, not economic, limited to excluding Paraguay from meetings of Presidents and Ministers of the Mercosur bloc.

Based on this assumption, they unleashed the coup d’état.  First the Liberal Party left the government, then they allied with the Colorados and the Unión Nacional de los Ciudadanos Éticos — UNACE – to approve, in a session, a resolution that established an extra-brief rite of impeachment.

Thus, they bypassed Article 17 of the Paraguayan Constitution, that establishes that “in penal proceedings, or in any other procedure that could lead to penalty or sanction, every person has a right to obtain the necessary copies, means and period of time for the presentation of his defence, and to be able to offer, practice, control and contest proofs”, and article 16, which affirms that the right of defense of persons is inviolable”. 

20.  In 2003, the process of impeachment against President Machi, which was not approved, took three months, while the process against Fernando Lugo was begun and terminated in about 36 hours.  The petition for the revision of the constitutionality [of the impeachment proceeding] presented by President Lugo before the Supreme Court of Justice of Paraguay was not even heard. 

21. The process of impeachment of President Fernando Lugo was considered a coup d’état by all the nation states of South America and, in accord with the Democratic Commitment of Mercosur, Paraguay was suspended from Unasur [Union of South American States] and Mercosur, without the coup plotters giving the slightest consideration to the diplomatic mission of Unasur foreign ministers, who were even treated with arrogance.

22.  As a consequence of the suspension of Paraguay, it was possible and legal for the governments of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay to approve the admittance of Venezuela to Mercosur as of July 31 of the current year.  This was something that neither the coup perpetrators, nor their most fervent admirers — the United States, Spain, The Vatican, and Germany, who were the first to recognize the illegal Franco government — appear to have foreseen. 

23.  In the face of this unexpected development, the entire conservative press of the three countries, along with that of Paraguay, and the conservative leaders and parties of the region, mounted a campaign in aid of the coup perpetrators with all sorts of arguments, proclaiming the illegality of the suspension of Paraguay (hence affirming the legality of the coup d’état) which would also mean the admittance of Venezuela [to Mercosur] was illegal.

24.  Now Paraguay hopes to obtain a decision from the Mercosur Permanent Tribunal of Appeal on the legality of their suspension from Mercosur, while in Brazil, the leader of the PSDB [Social Democratic Party of Brazil] has announced that he will appeal to the Brazilian justice system to contest the legality of the suspension of Paraguay and the admittance of Venezuela.

25. US foreign policy in South America has suffered completely unexpected consequences as a result of the precipitous decision of the Paraguayan coup plotters to take power,  with such urgency that they could not wait until April 2013, when elections are due. Now they are calling on all their allies to try to overturn the decision on the admittance of Venezuela.

26.  In reality, the question of Paraguay is the question of Venezuela, and of the struggle for economic and political influence in South America and its future as a sovereign and developed region.

Translation: Jordan Bishop, for ALAI. Edited by Venezuelanalysis.com

Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães is a Brazilian diplomat and professor in the Rio Branco Institute.