Coup or Feint?

After weathering one of the most half-hearted coup attempts in Latin America, Paraguay’s President Luis González Macchi declared a state of emergency, granting himself broad powers to rule by decree. The June arrest in Brazil of fugitive former General Lino Oviedo, sought in connection with the March 1999 murder of Vice President Luis María Argaña, appears to strengthen González Macchi’s hand against Oviedo loyalists. But critics of the regime see the pursuit of extradition as a convenient excuse to ignore mounting domestic problems.

“The problem for the current government is that, after the success [in crushing the May 18 coup] that in theory strengthens it, now the criticisms, doubts, and suspicions are raining down,” reports Pablo Rodríguez in Buenos Aires’ leftist Página 12 (May 21). While the Chamber of Deputies approved a state of emergency lasting no more than 60 days, legislators worried that González would use his new powers against unions, party meetings, and other forms of dissent. “They fear the ghost of [former dictator Alfredo] Stroessner, who made executive fiat a pillar of his repressive system.”

Rodríguez says that public opinion was skeptical of the  the coup, in which six tanks inexplicably rolled unchallenged more than 25 miles to the heart of Asunción and fired a handful of fusillades, causing minor damage to the parliament building.

Oviedo supporters questioned whether the government itself had staged the coup to discredit the former general and provide a pretext for increasing executive power. The official explanation, they say, that coup leaders had sought to mobilize the armed forces through a show of force suggests that “it was really more an operetta than a coup: Rather than seeking support in military units, the handful of rebels sought to make a coup by first creating the sensation of a coup and trusting in this to bring them victory,” Rodríguez writes.

Asunción’s independent ABC Color (June 16), which is sympathetic to Oviedo, complains that the regime’s relentless pursuit of the former general as “ ‘public enemy number one’ is an excellent excuse for concentrating on him all its artillery, and thus avoiding engagement in the decisions that citzens require” to rein in a fiscal deficit swollen by spending hikes, corruption, and tax revenues severely depressed by ongoing economic crisis.

Congressman Rafael Filizzola Serra, in Asunción’s independent Ultima Hora (June 16), credits “popular pressure and government action” for Oviedo’s arrest, beginning “the process that once and for all will force him to face the very grave charges against him.”