Matias Spektor, one of the leading international relations scholars in Brazil, has published a penetrating column in the major newspaper Folha de São Paulo on his country’s reaction to the rapid-fire constitutional ousting of Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.
Spektor makes the forceful point that Brazil needs to do more to help Paraguay become a stable democratic country. As he notes, the Brazilian national interest extends far beyond ensuring continued operation of the giant Itaipu hydroelectric complex, source of 25% of electricity for Brazil. Close to half a million Brazilians work along the frontier in the agro-industrial sector. Paraguay is the source for an immense network of contraband goods, narcotics and illegal arms, all of which have a direct and negative impact on the lives of Brazilians by feeding organized crime in major cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The only sure way to curtail these networks is to transform the economic and political fundament of Paraguay.
In the past Brazil has played a crucial role in stabilizing Paraguay. The subtext to a paper I published in 2000 with Dominique Fournier was that Brazil was playing a tutelary role in Paraguay, ensuring that the corrupt ruling networks in the Colorado Party at least stuck with the form of democracy in the hopes that this would provide the cracks in which a genuine democracy could take root. Little has changed in the intervening ten years, with Asunción now being one of the most important posts for Brazilian diplomats. Lugo’s election — he came from completely outside the established political system — seemed to suggest that this strategy of quiet pressure for more democracy might be working. The point that Spektor makes is that last week’s ouster of Lugo shatters this illusion and points to the need for a much more forceful role from Brazil in Paraguay’s internal stabilization if Brasília is to retain any credibility as a regional leader able to deliver positive outcomes.
This latest political calamity in Paraguay matters far more than it might seem. While in itself small and relatively insignificant, regional responses to the crisis in Paraguay as well as the apparent strategic thinking guiding the movers and shakers in Asunción serve as a bellwether for Latin American approaches to democracy, development and regional self-management. More to come on this.