Tag Archives: Mark Weisbrot

another landslide victory as the Greeks say OXI!

everywhere is OXI! all say NEIN!

Following the financial crisis (which was actually a banking crisis, as I have pointed out many times before), it was Greece that was unfortunate enough to have been singled out and placed at the head of the queue for dose after dose of neo-liberal economic shock therapy. The financial group formerly known as “the Troika” — the IMF, ECB and EU — were exceedingly quick when it came to imposing their strict austerity programme, backed up with further ‘Washington Consensus’-style ‘conditionalities’ — the enforced privatisation of public services and other forms of so-called ‘deregulation’.

More than half a decade on, and rather than prosperity, “austerity” (i.e., savage cuts – I always apply apostrophes) has created a vicious debt spiral, with mass unemployment and reduced incomes leading inexorably to reduced demand, stifled economic growth and, as a direct and consequence, lost tax revenues that would otherwise have been available for government investment. Along the way, money has been deliberately siphoned from the poorest in society to the wealthiest. But then “austerity” automatically provides a wonderful excuse for this sort of wealth redistribution.

Six months ago, the Greeks voted in the anti-austerity government Syriza. Their message then was already clear: “austerity” simply does NOT work! They had had enough. Now with today’s dramatic referendum result they have said ‘enough’ a second time – in effect this was a landslide vote calling for a complete end to “austerity” and even more loud and clear than when Syriza were first elected.

What happens next is uncertain. The real fight for the future of their country is perhaps only just beginning. But the vote shows both the strength of support for the Syriza government as well as the tremendous courage of the Greek people to continue to take a stand against the Eurogarchs. To win by such a margin was a remarkable victory.

What the Greek people achieved today provides yet another boost in our own fight against “austerity”.

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greek solidarity march

 Left Unity, who have a loose alliance with both Syriza and Podemos, tonight issued the following message and call for support:

The people of Greece have resisted every threat, every piece of establishment propaganda telling them a No vote would mean ruin, and asserted their democratic rights. This will be a No heard around the world.

Now is the time to celebrate – and to step up our solidarity ahead of the Troika’s next move. Come along to what will now be a victory rally at the TUC’s Congress House, organised by Greece Solidarity Campaign.

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Update:

Here is a very short report on Monday’s [July 7th] Democracy Now! featuring Costas Panayotakis, professor of sociology at NYC College of Technology at City University of New York, and author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.

Panayotakis says:

Yeah, I think it surprised everybody, including the government. All the polls before the vote suggested that it was very close. So, I think that was a great victory for democracy in Greece. People were under immense psychological pressure from the media, that were threatening them with nightmare scenarios; from workplaces, where many business owners were threatening their workers that if a “no” prevailed, they would lose their jobs; and from the European partners, who basically were saying that a “no” vote would mean exit from the eurozone. So, it’s a very important result. It’s a hopeful development. It will not end the austerity, even if there is an agreement, but it creates a better environment for anti-austerity forces to keep fighting. […]

Well, the situation in Greece is still very difficult. It is urgent, because the banks are closed, so the normality in the banking system has to be restored. As long as it is not restored, it basically will have a bad effect on the economy. And this creates lots of pressure, of course, on the Greek government, and it is consistent with a strategy of economic strangulation of—that the Europeans have used ever since the election of this new anti-austerity government.

With regards to the resignation of Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister, Costas Panayotakis points out:

He’s not a sort of long-term politician. So he doesn’t want to just—he didn’t want to just achieve an agreement that would last a few months and would continue this kind of pattern of agreements that are made and have to be reconsidered and revisited a few months later. So that made him very, very unpopular with his partners, who are the more traditional politicians. Perhaps it was partly a stylistic issue, as well. You know, he wasn’t—you know, finance ministers in the eurozone are usually very sort of gray, sort of technocratic figures, so perhaps his style was commented on. But I think there was substantial differences, and he basically held for his position, which was substantially right.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the debate on the Democracy Now! website.

Meanwhile, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor for The Telegraph, provides an excellent overview of available options the Greek government can choose from in the event that the ECB decides to continue denying the banks “emergency liquidity assistance (ELA)”, i.e., euros:

Top Syriza officials say they are considering drastic steps to boost liquidity and shore up the banking system, should the ECB refuse to give the country enough breathing room for a fresh talks.

“If necessary, we will issue parallel liquidity and California-style IOU’s, in an electronic form. We should have done it a week ago,” said Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister.

Alternatively (and bearing in mind that Varoufakis has stepped down):

Syriza sources say the Greek ministry of finance is examining options to take direct control of the banking system if need be rather than accept a draconian seizure of depositor savings – reportedly a ‘bail-in’ above a threshhold of €8,000 – and to prevent any banks being shut down on the orders of the ECB.

Government officials recognize that this would lead to an unprecedented rift with the EU authorities. But Syriza’s attitude at this stage is that their only defence against a hegemonic power is to fight guerrilla warfare.

Hardliners within the party – though not Mr Varoufakis – are demanding the head of governor Stournaras, a holdover appointee from the past conservative government.

They want a new team installed, one that is willing to draw on the central bank’s secret reserves, and to take the provocative step in extremis of creating euros.

“The first thing we must do is take away the keys to his office. We have to restore stability to the system, with or without the help of the ECB. We have the capacity to print €20 notes,” said one.

Such action would require invoking national emergency powers – by decree – and “requisitioning” the Bank of Greece for several months. Officials say these steps would have to be accompanied by an appeal to the European Court: both to assert legality under crisis provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, and to sue the ECB for alleged “dereliction” of its treaty duty to maintain financial stability.

Click here to read Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s full report entitled, “Defiant Greeks reject EU demand as Syriza readies IOU currency”

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On Tuesday [July 7th], Democracy Now! ran a rather more extended report on the Greek crisis in the light of their defiant rejection of “austerity”. They spoke with Richard Wolff, author of several books, including, most recently, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, and emeritus professor of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as well as Channel 4 News skittish economics editor, Paul Mason.

Richard Wolff says:

I think the real importance of what is happening in Greece is that fundamentally a poor corner of Europe has said it will no longer absorb the disproportionate burden of this crisis and of the bailouts that have been used to cope with it. Basically, what is going on here is that the richer countries of Europe, led by Germany, are shifting the burden of all these crises—that they are responsible for—onto people in Greece. They never imagined that in trying to do that they would generate their worst nightmare: a left-wing political organization that goes from 4 percent of the vote a few years ago to an ability to call out a referendum and get 60 percent of the people to support them. So, they have generated a response, and that struggle, of which this is only one step, is what’s being played out here. And that’s why it’s relevant to the rest of Europe and to the United States, everywhere where there is mounting evidence of people saying, “No, we will not continue to absorb the costs of a system that works in this dysfunctional way.”

Regarding Germany’s part in the crisis, Wolff says:

The irony here, the historical irony, is something I think we need to understand. Back in 1953, the Germans, with a very crushed economy—in that case, because of the Great Depression and the fact that they lost World War II—went to the United States, France and Britain and said, “We can’t join you as a bulwark against the Soviet Union unless you relieve us of our enormous debts, which are hampering our ability to grow.” Across 1953, they had meetings in London. When those meetings concluded, with the so-called London Agreement, here’s what Germany got from the United States, France and Britain: 50 percent of their outstanding debt, which was very high, was erased, and the other 50 percent of their debt was stretched out over 30 years. In effect, Germany got the relief of all of its basic indebtedness, based on two world wars that they were held accountable for, and that enabled them to have the so-called Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle that happened. They now refuse to give to Greece what they got. They refuse to allow Greece to have the chance to solve its economic problems just the way Germany asked for and got. And this discrepancy between these two countries is producing a stress inside Europe that is, what Paul Mason correctly points to, fundamentally dangerous to the whole project of a United States of Europe.

Adding a little later:

The Germans are victims of their own propaganda. They converted an economic crisis into a nationalist, we-versus-them mentality—we, Germans who work hard, against the Greeks, who don’t. Reminded me of nothing so much as Mr. Romney’s unfortunate remark in the last campaign where he divided Americans into the 47 percent moochers and the 53 percent who work hard, trying to get the 53 percent to believe they were carrying the other 47. That’s what the Germans have done. “We Germans work very hard, and we’re carrying these lazy Greeks.” This—put aside the questionable issue of whether the Germans ought to play such a nationalist card, given their history, but this is a way of solidifying opposition to what’s going on, and this is a very, very dangerous track. But she may be trapped by it. She has done it now. So, as Paul said, her own people wouldn’t support making a deal. She’s made that impossible for herself.

And finishing:

There’s no question in my mind, from the evidence we have, that the American government is more interested with a stable Europe than with provoking this kind of a split inside Europe, partly because of the ramifications here in this country, where the same anti-austerity is building. That’s one of the causes for the support for Bernie Sanders, for example. But he’s also concerned that the Germans are making a classic political error, going way too far, and that this will disturb global markets. The economic recovery in this country is very weak and very fragile, and that doesn’t want disturbance to come from a powerhouse like Europe.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the debate on the Democracy Now! website.

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The eleventh hour intercession by the IMF was intriguing. Why decide to put out its “Debt Sustainability Analysis” draft report which confirms that Greek debt repayment is unsustainable whilst announcing Greece’s need for large-scale debt relief to create “a breathing space” on the very eve of such a crucial vote? A statement that came as grist to the mill for the “no” campaign, was cited by Alexis Tsipras in his televised appeal to voters, and, hardly surprising, was frowned upon by other Eurozone countries that tried to block its release. Yet, seemingly at the behest of Washington and in defiance of Berlin, the IMF went ahead anyway.

At Zerohedge, Tyler Durden offered up this somewhat unsatisfactory answer:

Perhaps after all is said and done, the powers that be need chaos, need instability, need panic in order to ensure the public gratefully accept the all-in QE-fest that they want.

On the other hand, Paul Craig Roberts suggests a rather more persuasive, if still highly speculative, geostrategic reason:

If the inflexible Germans were to have Greece booted from the EU, Greece’s turn to Russia and financial rescue would put the same idea in the heads of Italy and Spain and perhaps ultimately France. NATO would unravel as Southern Europe became members of Russia’s Eurasian trade bloc, and American power would unravel with NATO.

This is simply unacceptable to Washington.

If reports are correct, Victoria Nuland has already paid a visit to the Greek prime minister and explained to him that he is neither to leave the EU or cozy up to the Russians or there will be consequences, polite language for overthrow or assassination. Indeed, the Greek prime minister probably knows this without need of a visit.

I conclude that the “Greek debt crisis” is now contained. The IMF has already adopted the Greek government’s position with the release of the IMF report that it was a mistake from the beginning to impose austerity on Greece. Pressured by this report and by Washington, the EU Commission and European Central Bank will now work with the Greek government to come up with a plan acceptable to Greece.

This means that Italy, Spain, and Portugal can also expect more lenient treatment.

The losers are the looters who intended to use austerity measures to force these countries to transfer national assets into private hands. I am not implying that they are completely deterred, only that the extent of the plunder has been reduced.

Time will tell if Roberts is right.

Click here to read Paul Craig Roberts’ full article.

Finally, on Friday [July 10th], Democracy Now! spoke with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author of forthcoming book, Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. As part of his response to a question about why Yanis Varoufakis resigned, Weisbrot offered an alternative explanation for the IMF/Washington intervention:

Well, I don’t know why—I mean, I don’t know why the finance minister quit. Obviously, you know, the European—the other finance ministers and European authorities wanted him out, and they said it was his negotiating style and things like that. I don’t know that that makes much difference.

You know, the main thing, again, is whether they can get a deal that allows for an economic recovery. You know, this is the ironic thing about it, is that the European authorities have made this mess. The reason they need all this debt relief is because the economy has shrunk by more than 25 percent and greatly reduced their ability to pay. And now, the IMF is already saying—or the IMF has already acknowledged that the debt is unsustainable.

And some of that is U.S. influence. You know, you have a difference between the U.S. and the European Union, or the European authorities, I should say, because the U.S. is only concerned with keeping Greece in the euro, whereas the others have this project. They want to transform Europe into a place that has a smaller social safety net, a reduced state, cuts in pensions and healthcare. This isn’t just Greece. Greece is the obstacle in their way of transforming Europe. So they have these whole set of other interests that they’re fighting for, and that’s why they’re being so brutal and stubborn about this.

So, again, you know, we don’t really know what’s going to happen yet. We don’t know whether they’re going to grant sufficient debt relief to allow for an economic recovery. So I think this fight is going to go on for a while.

In other words, Washington and Berlin have somewhat divergent interests — interests that, as Paul Craig Roberts indicates, may hinge on Washington’s grander and more lunatic geostrategic objectives.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the debate on the Democracy Now! website.

 

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Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, Britain, campaigns & events, Greece

seven ways of reporting on a coup: the overthrow of Paraguayan president Lugo

A coup d’etat is taking place right now, Friday afternoon, in Paraguay.

So began a report by Mark Weisbrot published in the Guardian on Friday 22nd June. Weisbrot continuing:

That is how it has been described by a number of neighboring governments. And the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is treating it as such, taking it very seriously. All 12 foreign ministers (including those of Brazil and Argentina, who are deeply concerned) flew to Asunción Thursday night to meet with the government, as well as the opposition in Paraguay’s Congress.

The Congress of Paraguay is trying to oust the president, Fernando Lugo, by means of an impeachment proceeding for which he was given less than 24 hours to prepare and only two hours to present a defense. It appears that a decision to convict him has already been written, and will be presented Friday evening (at 20.30 GMT). It would be impossible to call this due process under any circumstances, but it is also a clear violation of Article 17 of Paraguay’s constitution, which provides for the right to an adequate defense.1

In his article entitled “What will Washington do about Fernando Lugo’s ouster in Paraguay?”, Weisbrot also reminds us of the meddling part played by the Obama administration (and especially of Hillary Clinton) during the 2009 Honduran coup, which led to the overthrow of democratic left President Manuel Zelaya:

Zelaya’s ouster was a turning point for relations between the US and Latin America, as governments including Brazil and Argentina, which had previously hoped that President Obama would depart from the policies of his predecessor were rudely disappointed. The Obama administration made conflicting statements about the Honduras coup, and then – in opposition to the rest of the hemisphere – did everything it could to make sure that the coup succeeded. This included blocking, within the OAS [Organization of American States], efforts by South American nations to restore democracy in Honduras. At the latest Summit of the Americas, Obama – in contrast to the summit of early 2009 – was as isolated as his predecessor George W Bush had been.

And the prospects this time? Weisbrot offers his thoughts as news of the coup is still breaking:

The Obama administration has responded to the current crisis in Paraguay with a statement in support of due process. Perhaps, they have learned something from Honduras and will not actively oppose efforts by South America to support democracy this time. And certainly, South America will not allow Washington to hijack any mediation process, if there is one – as Hillary Clinton did with the OAS in Honduras. But Washington may still play its traditional role by assuring the opposition that the new government will have support, including financial and military, from Washington. We will watch what happens.

So we waited and then, just a few days later [June 24th], and, as the BBC reported, Washington responded with the following message:

The US urged “all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility”.2

Whilst by June 28th (almost a week after the coup) the BBC were still taking an impartial stance and not prepared to declare that any kind of coup had actually taken place. The question no longer being one of ‘rule of law’ but more simply a matter to be settled by Paraguayan public opinion, which they therefore set out to canvass:

People in Paraguay seemed to have different opinions on the impeachment and removal of President Fernando Lugo from office a few days ago.

Some people called the measure taken by the Senate as a coup against the democracy, others think the decision was the result of his poor performance as a leader.3

Unsurprisingly, the BBC succeeded in finding a relatively even balance of opinions when they put together the vox pop montage that you can watch here.

So what’s the truth about the removal of Fernando Lugo? Was it a matter of legitimate impeachment after Mr Lugo’s “poor performance” or simply a new kind of “express coup d’etat”? Well, here’s a report by Jorge Heine published in The Hindu that digs a little deeper and sets the story within a somewhat wider context:

Although hit, like every other country, by the Great Recession of 2008-2009, in 2010, the Paraguayan economy grew 14.5 per cent, one of the highest rates in the world, comparable to the rates clocked by Singapore or some of the Gulf Emirates, and Paraguay’s highest in 30 years. It grew again at 6 per cent in 2011, and prospects are upbeat for this year as well. In other words, the country is booming, and doing better than it ever did in the past. […]

The last thing that could be said of Mr. Lugo is that he mismanaged the economy. If anything, he was much too cautious in the handling of social demands, and too accommodating to established interests. Though he had promised land reform, and his approval ratings were at 84 per cent in the early days of his government (as opposed to 17 per cent for his outgoing predecessor) he was unable to make headway on it, not surprising in a country as conservative as Paraguay.4

With regards to the impeachment proceedings, Heine writes:

The notion that you could give the President less than a day to prepare his defence, and a mere two hours to present it — as the Paraguayan Senate did when Mr. Lugo had asked for a couple of weeks to do so — stretches credulity. Yet, that is exactly what happened. When asked why the rush, Federico Franco, President Lugo’s VP and now his successor said “to avoid civil war”. If you believe that, you will believe anything. Paraguay is no closer to civil war than Switzerland is. It is South America’s second poorest country, very conservative, with many issues, but certainly not on the verge of civil war.

And what does Heine make of Washington’s involvement?

This raises an interesting question. Should the United States, the alleged champion of democracy worldwide, embrace and sign FTAs with countries that are forced to leave regional integration schemes for violating the democratic clause? The equanimity with which the U.S. State Department reacted to the soft coup in Paraguay (“We urge all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility, in the spirit of Paraguay’s democratic principles” (sic)) hints that, after legitimising the coup in Honduras, and accepting without as much as a blink the ouster of President Lugo in Paraguay, the defence of democracy and the rule of law in the Americas is not a high priority in Washington these days.

But then obviously we know this already, and who is Jorge Heine anyway…? Well, he is chair of global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a distinguished fellow at Centre for International Governance Innovation, CIGI. The CIGI is, in turn, in partnership with the Institute for New Economic Thinking, INET. In short then (and seeing beyond all the MUDI acronyms), Heine is a leading academic proponent of globalisation and someone uncomfortably close to a certain George Soros (already featured in a number of posts on this blog). All of which caused me to wonder if there wasn’t perhaps just a little more to Washington’s involvement in Lugo’s fall than meets Heine’s rather too well-connected eyes?

And it turns out that there is indeed another part to the jigsaw:

If you go by WikiLeaks, Lugo’s removal reads like the chronicle of a foretold coup. According to cables from the US embassy in Paraguay leaked by WikiLeaks, the coup has been on the table since 2009.

According to the cables the leader of the extreme right wing Unión Nacional de Ciudadanos Éticos (UNACE, National Union of Ethical Citizens) disgraced General Lino Oviedo, and the former president, the Partido Colorado’s Nicanor Duarte Frutos began plotting the end of Lugo shortly after he took over.

According to WikiLeaks, their objective was to profit from Lugo’s political slips – which have been a few – to impeach him, appoint Federico Franco and force a general election within 90 days. Now, whether Lugo’s overthrow last week was the culmination of the 2009 plot made public by WikiLeaks remains nebulous.5

This wikileaks evidence that plans of a coup were already known by the US administration back in 2009 is also available in numerous other places around the web:

The extract quoted above was taken from an interesting post written by Antonio Castillo, a journalist and journalism lecturer at The University of Sydney, who in the same piece asserts that “What happened in Paraguay last week was a ‘political coup.’” Castillo being another author who is concerned by obvious parallels with the 2009 Honduras coup:

The final aspect that emerges from the Paraguayan crisis is that perhaps we are witnessing a “new kind of coup.” This new kind of coup – like the one against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 – is more sophisticated and dressed up in some sort of legality. But it is essentially a coup – a conspiracy of the political elite that will resort to any measures to stop any leader who might have links to progressive social movements in the region.

But then there is perhaps yet another side to all of this. We are given the impression by many of the commentators who are sympathetic to Lugo that his reforms have been far-reaching, whereas Castillo, on the other hand, sees the same reforms as having been mostly stifled and essentially failed:

The agrarian reform he promised – to end the land monopoly orchestrated by the former dictator Alfredo Stroessner – didn’t go anywhere, while the demands from the popular sector fell on deaf ears. During the past four years, the popular social movement lost ground while the right became the beneficiary of Lugo’s many concessions. Even his nemesis, the Partido Colorado benefitted from his incongruous political decisions, including the hand over of the Ministry of Agriculture to neoliberal exponents and the appointment – after the incident in Curuguaty – of Rubén Candia from the Partido Colorado to the Ministry of Interior.

In reality Lugo never threatened the financial and political interests of Paraguay’s oligarchy. It would be a mistake to say the coup was intended to end a progressive left wing government – as was the case in 1970s Chile under Salvador Allende. Let’s be clear, Lugo’s government was never in that league.

Click here to read more of Antonio Castillo’s analysis.

Not that Castillo is a lone voice in making this assessment. Here are the altogether more radical thoughts of William Prieto writing for socialistworld.net:

Lugo came to power in 2008, backed by an eclectic coalition of parties, with a margin of 10% over his nearest rival from the Colorado Party. His election was an historic blow to The Colorado Party, the traditional political voice of the ruling class, which governed uninterrupted for 61 years until Lugo’s election, including during the 35 years of the bloody Stroessner dictatorship. […]

However, there are key elements which differentiate the Paraguayan experience from the processes in Venezuela and Bolivia for example. Lugo was elected as candidate of the Patriotic Alliance for Change, which despite including many political and social organisations of the workers and peasants, was also backed by the Liberal capitalist, Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA), which saw in Lugo’s election an opportunity to occupy positions of political power benefiting from the breaking of Colorado’s monopoly. This party is the very one which Federico Franco leads and which led the charge to remove Lugo!

Prieto, who is a member of the Trotskyist Socialismo Revolucionario [Revolutionary Socialist] party in Venezuela, believes that these contradictions were a ticking time-bomb always ready to be exploited as during the instigation of the recent coup:

[Thus,] From the very beginning, the Lugo presidency contained the contradictions which have been exploded in this coup. […]

This is a consequence of Lugo’s mistaken approach, basing himself on negotiations and alliances with pro-capitalist parties (including the Colorado party) in parliament, rather than on the movements and mobilisations of the working masses to achieve their demands for real change. As the other revolutionary processes in Venezuela and Bolivia, the experience of Left governments is proving in practice the need for a political fight based on a struggle of the workers and peasants, through independent and democratic political organisations armed with a programme to break the power of imperialism and the oligarchs.

If decisive anti-capitalist measures are not adopted, a “balancing act” between reforms benefiting the poor and the maintenance of the rule of the multinationals and landlords can only end in the wearing out of the struggle and return of the right wing. In Paraguay, commentators are suggesting that Lugo’s removal is part of the preparations for the right wing to be able to take power again in the 2013 elections in 9 months’ time. Indeed, as an article in El Pais following the coup on 24 June, described as “a miracle” the fact that Lugo had been able to remain in power until now, going on to speculate that: “this miracle can only be explained by assuming that the interests of the landlords were not put into question”.6

However, the most comprehensive overview I’ve discovered so far was published this weekend in Counterpunch. Written by Gabriel Rossman and entitled simply “Return of the Coups”, the piece begins:

On June 22, the Paraguayan Congress impeached President Fernando Lugo, a progressive who assumed office in 2008. Although technically legal, Lugo’s removal threatens the very integrity of democracy in Paraguay. It is the latest in a disconcerting series of attacks against progressive governments in South America that highlights the vulnerability of its nascent democratic institutions and calls into question the trend of democratization in the region.7

Click here to read Gabriel Rossman’s complete article at Counterpunch.

Finally, there is one person whose important opinion has been strangely absent during the last few weeks of turmoil: that person being, of course, Fernando Lugo himself. On Thursday [July 12th] Lugo broke his silence giving an exclusive interview on Russia Today:

RT: Mr. President, right after you were voted out of office, you spoke as if you were resigning of your own accord. You also looked as if you weren’t quite yourself. Later we saw a more energetic Lugo, like the one we see now. So why did you fail to be as convincing in your resistance to the coup in those first hours?

FL: I saw people out in the square. They wanted me to go because of the ministers. I knew that a new massacre was being prepared.

I am a convicted pacifist. I didn’t want to see any Paraguayan lose their blood as a result of violence. That is why we went along with this illegal and unfair process. It was a politically-charged trial disguised as a constitutional process. As one MP said, it all looked like a circus designed to depose a democratically-elected president.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Russia Today website.

1 From an article entitled “What will Washington do about Fernando Lugo’s ouster in Paraguay?”, written by Mark Weisbrot, published in the Guardian on June 22, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/22/washington-fernando-lugo-ouster-paraguay

2 From an article entitled “Lugo denounces removal from Paraguay presidency as coup”, published by BBC news on June 24, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-18569378

3 From an article entitled “’I think this was a coup’, says Paraguayan resident” posted by BBC news on June 28, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-18633364

4 From an article entitled “A soft coup in South America”, written by Jorge Heine, published in The Hindu on July 12, 2012. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article3628430.ece

6 From an article entitled “Fernando Lugo brought down in “legal” coup d’etat”, written by William Priesto, posted by socialistworld.net on June 29, 2012. http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/5830

7 From an article entitled “From Honduras to Paraguay: Return of the Coups” written by Gabriel Rossman, published in Counterpunch on July 13–15, 2012. http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/07/13/return-of-the-coups/

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behind the mask of a Greek tragedy – what’s really going on in Athens

I expect you’ve probably heard that there’s been a bit of trouble in Athens recently. Hostile to the latest round of “austerity measures”, and in the midst a two-day general strike, thousands have taken to rioting; tear gas, smoke bombs and volleys of stun grenades being used by police to disperse the angry crowds gathered in Syntagma Square, outside the Greek parliament.

“Athens ablaze as Greece austerity riots continue into the night” ran one dramatic headline in The Telegraph:

“Greek police fired teargas and battled masked demonstrators as they attacked the finance ministry on Wednesday after lawmakers passed the first of two austerity bills demanded by international lenders.

“Smoke from flash bombs and teargas projectiles thrown by police to drive back the crowd filled the square outside parliament. One group of protesters attacked the nearby finance ministry on Syntagma Square, setting fire to a post office on the ground floor of the building.

“Another group tried to set fire to an office block housing a branch of one of Greece’s biggest banks while across the square, the luxury King George Hotel was evacuated.”1

In other words, the mad Greeks are throwing one of their hot-headed Mediterranean tantrums again. But, there’s another side to this story, which the mainstream news reports only occasionally touch on and almost never explore. It is the story of a people provoked, betrayed and sold out by all of their major political parties, and how, with no light at the end of the tunnel, this has sparked a rapidly strengthening and generally peaceful protest movement.

Not then a story of chaos and disarray, nor of disunity; but of defiance and courage and camaraderie in the face of shared adversity. This inside story was however wonderfully captured by Democracy Now! producers Aaron Maté and Hany Massoud in their honest and moving report from the streets of Athens on June 29th::

Mainstream opinion also has it that the Greek people somehow brought this debt crisis down on their own sorry heads, and that the latest response of the government parties and the IMF, desperate as it is, is the only available fix. Thus, the story presented to us appears as tragedy in the stricter sense, with the Greek people reaping the inevitable harvest of financial disaster which they themselves have helped to sow.

To those who believe in this version of events, the preferred solution depends upon forcing the Greeks to take their medicine before their domestic problems spread and infect us all. And mark my words, this crisis will spread, it will be coming to a country near you in the near future, and when it does arrive, it will most likely be called “the Greek Contagion”.

Yet this version of the Greek tragedy is also a fable, in which the forces of nature, in this case “the market”, provides our moral lesson, and it is fabulous too, in the more common sense that it is false. The Greeks did not cause their debt crisis, nor did the spread of its effects cause similar crises in Spain, Portugal, Ireland or anywhere else. The origin of the crisis has really nothing to do with Greece, and everything to do with Wall Street and the City of London.

Meanwhile, the medicine being offered is actually nothing of the kind, and is inevitably worsening the patient’s condition. Which is not my opinion, but the opinion of Mark Weisbrot, an economist and the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who explained on Democracy Now! how the “austerity measures” that merely serve the interests of the creditors are “making the economy worse”. Whilst according to Weisbrot, most economists and “the markets” also believe that a Greek default is inevitable in any case:

“Well the vote [for the latest “bail-out” and contingent “austerity package”] may pass, but it’s not going to be the end of this struggle at all because as you can say, the people in the streets are really the constraint. The creditors are trying to squeeze as much as they can out of Greece, and they’re making the economy worse. There’s hardly any disagreement among economists about that. That this package if it passes will make things worse.

They’ve already laid-off 10% of the government work force and now this package will call for another 20% of the labor force, the federal labor force, to be laid off and another 12% of GDP over the next three years in budget cuts, which would be like $1.70 trillion in the U.S., budget cuts and tax increases. So this is going to worsen the recession unless some totally unforeseen events were to happen. There is going to be a default. That’s the opinion of the markets and most economists and the question is, what’s it going to be like? When are they going to stop punishing Greece and allow the economy to grow and employment to return? That’s the big questions.”

Click here to read the full transcript.

1 From an article entitled “Athens ablaze as Greece austerity riots continue into the night: Violent clashes in Athens continue overnight with teargas and smoke from blazing fires filling the city centre”, published in The Telegraph on Thursday 30th June. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/greece/8607622/Athens-ablaze-as-Greece-austerity-riots-continue-into-the-night.html

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