FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In the Time of Legal Coups?

by BRETT WARNKE

A June coup in Paraguay deposed left-leaning President Fernando Lugo and resembles others in recent years, specifically, the desire of the plotters to give the transition an appearance of legal legitimacy.  NYU Professor Greg Grandin said in an interview, “The Paraguayan coup could have happened without the Honduran coup of 2009, but Honduras softened the ground.  The similarities between the two are remarkable.”

Lugo, a former Catholic priest who refused to take a salary as President because 60% of the country lives in poverty, was impeached and after a two-day trial was removed from office.  Lugo had been accused of “poor performance” by his detractors in his handling of squatter removal in which several police and homeless people were killed.  He was elected in 2008. His speeches were infused with liberation theology rhetoric, earning him the nickname: “The Bishop of the Poor.”

According to Grandin, “Lugo was the first President to break with the land status quo.  He encouraged a peasant push for land reform.”  After the overthrow, Secretary General Ali Rodriguez of the Union of South American Nations worried that “due process” was not respected and described the action as a “threat of rupture in the democratic order.”

The democratic order in Paraguay is quite recent.  For 35 years the right wing dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner and his Colorado Party, economically stratified Paraguay became a haven for fleeing Nazis and arms smugglers.  A U.S. Cold War ally, Stroessner was one of the longest-serving heads of state in history.  After his own ouster by a military coup of his own in 1989, the 1990s were rife with coup plots and government intrigue.  Landowners formed private armies on vast plantations and the nation became even more of, in Grandin’s words, “an oligarchic state.”

In Turkey, for example, before a 2010 referendum that changed the constitution, the military interdicted in coups—in 1960 and 1980—as a check to any perceived threat to the secular reforms undertaken by Ataturk. And Pakistan, like nineteenth century Prussia, has been described as an “army with a state,” because of the military’s superintending power over those cobbled together nations.

But no one was more surprised by the 2009 Honduran coup than populist President Zelaya.  His removal added a new element:  a “legal” varnish to the restoration of that country’s old guard.  “The idea of procedural democracy has taken hold in Latin America,” Grandin said.  “There have been a lot of fights between the social forces of left and right in electoralism.  But no one today is seriously testing the legitimacy of procedural democracy.”

In July 2009, President Zelaya was removed from power by gunpoint after he strengthened relations with Venezuela and sought constitutional changes through a referendum. The procedural nature of his removal was notable:  The Attorney General ordered Zelaya’s removal, the President’s resignation was forged, and he was subsequently shuttled out of the country before a provisional president was sworn in after congressional approval.  All of this had a clean, transitional and stable facade.  However, civil rights were suspended and despite human rights abuses and killings by the Honduran military, none of those involved in the coup have been brought to justice.

The hazy definition of a coup seems to be changing.  While voting fraud is endemic in developed countries like Russia—whose streets have been filled in recent months with demonstrations against President Putin’s authoritarianism and vote-rigging—the veneer of democracy is necessary.  Even failed states like Afghanistan or dictatorships like Iran must pretend to give their people a voice.  But the rule of law and an emphasis on amorphous, ever-changing procedures is the new fetish of the autocrats.  Maumoon Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives as a one-party state from 1978-2000, was asked about the removal of Mohammad Nasheed, a reformer who had been imprisoned and tortured by Gayoom’s military.  According to the Daily Sun, Gayoom’s first response was to call the new government “legal” and say that the new president “is the democratically elected president of the Maldives, according to our constitution.”  In exceedingly careful language he said, “I had no personal involvement in anything like a coup organised by myself.”

 

Did Mohammad Nasheed, the President of the Maldives really “resign,” if the officers threatened violence in the capital?  While no elections have been slated—they have been called for, which facilitates an image of peaceful transition and stability. Dhunya Maumoon, daughter of Maumoon Gayoom, is now in the country’s cabinet, demonstrating very clearly who is back in charge.

 

The most outstanding example of a legal coup in recent days has been in Egypt where the Mubarak-appointed supreme court dissolved an Islamist-led Parliament and returned power to the junta. Professor Khalid Fahmy of American University in Cairo described this phenomenon saying,  “This is a coup.”  “It’s a legal coup — not legal because it’s legitimate — but legal in the sense that the army has staged a coup using the courts,” he said.  Similarly, political scientist Omar Asour told NPR in June, “I think it’s a coup with a legal framework, and until now it’s bloodless, so – but we’ll see the reactions on the street.”

 

In the capitals of Egypt, Honduras, The Maldives, and Paraguay, thousands have demonstrated against these recent seizures of state.  And during the last week in June mounted riot police dispersed pro-Lugo protests in Asuncion with tear gas and shields.  Yet, the counterstroke within these states may lead to the mushrooming of social movements.  Professor Grandin said, “One similarity between Paraguay and Honduras that is overlooked:  It may backfire.  The Honduras plotters didn’t get their wish and now there is a stronger social movement than ever before.”

Brett Warnke is an intern at The Nation magazine.

 

More articles by:
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail