A Paradise Lost; An Empire Gained

EDITORIAL, 16 Nov 2009

#88 | Johan Galtung

Asunción:    The tragedy Paraguay suffered is emblematic.  It carries messages of the soft vs the hard Occident, and of soft development vs hard “growth”.   And how a genocide drove out the soft.

The reference is to the attack in 1865 on Paraguay by the Triple Alianza (or Quadruple): Argentina-Uruguay-Brazil, indeed encouraged by No. 4, England, through the minister in Buenos Aires, Edward Thornton, and financed by the Bank of London, the Baring Brothers and Bank Rothschild.  Paraguay suffered one of the worst genocides in modern human history; a massacre killing five sixths of the population and more of the males. Argentina-Brazil captured two thirds of the territory.  And Paraguay was a smoking ruin.

Why, why, oh why?  Eduardo Galeano, in the book about the continent, Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina (The Bloodletting of Latin America); Mexico, Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI, 73rd (!) edition, 2001) tells the story; on pp. 308-323.

Because Paraguay had met the present Millennium Development Goals 150 years before 2015; but by the wrong means.  Most of the elements in the “development debate” today are present in the tragedy.  Oh, why, why, don’t they ever learn…

A key factor was geography: Paraguay being land-locked turned inward, less attracted by the lure of trade and culture with the colonizer Spain, England, and the USA.

Another key factor was historical: a major part of Spanish rule was through the Jesuit missions that treated the indigenous in general and the Guaraní in particular with respect.  They were organized in villages for a maximum number of 3,000 (for internal  cohesion), with a high level of self-sufficiency and above all by combining collective ownership of land with private use provided land is used well.  The Experimento Sagrado, the Sacred Experiment.

It lasted from 1603 till 1768 when it was closed down by the Spanish Crown, for lack of trade, and too high autonomy in general. But in 1811 independence struck, the Crown was closed down.  The new rulers inherited geography and history and put them to work.  Collective land ownership became State public ownership, with private use, the Guaraní tradition of two annual harvests was revived, and agricultural productivity and production quickly made Paraguay the richest country in Latin America.  Domestic supply encouraged domestic demand, encouraged industry and services.  By 1845 it was reported that all children knew how to read and write in this still bilingual country, Spanish-Guaraní. And: no debt.

Yes, agricultural self-sufficiency and surplus were combined with protectionism for industries.  Thornton reported customs duties of 20-25 percent, according to him actually above 40 percent.  And the country blossomed, also culturally, unharmed by “free trade”.  Reminds me of my own proposal some years ago, a little overstated, to rename UNCTAD UNCTOD, UN Conference on Trade or Development.

For England, the successor to Spain as imperial power–till the USA was able industrially to take over, even as colonial power in Puerto Rico and Cuba (1898)–what mattered was trade, industry and shipping, in Manchester and from Liverpool, and the financial interests in the City of London, till Wall Street took over.  Not the livelihood of that mixed population of Paraguay. Then as now: simple manufactured goods, with a return cargo of raw materials.
Now called “development”.  Then it was called civilization.

The immensely self-serving logic of England is obvious; but how about the three former Iberian colonies?  They were coastal countries run by elites with solid interests in being the local agents for English (and other) interests.  Like England afraid of a contagion, domino effect, from Paraguay.  Hence, kill the virus.

How much better it would have been for them all had they learnt from Paraguay.  But collective ownership was killed and in came latifundio, private ownership that included the freedom of non-use and bad use.  Out went meeting basic needs.  Down went industry.  And customs duties of course.  In came “free trade”.  But later came industry, not in Paraguay, now one of the two poorest countries in Latin America (with Bolivia), but in Peron’s Argentine and the Brazil of Vargas.  The victors learnt.

A little later, in came Stroessner, a lifetime dictator.  Till recently the victory of a sign of light and hope: the present president Fernando Lugo, a part of the New Latin America.

An unprocessed mega-trauma, rarely talked about, little known. Paraguay was not totally innocent, but indeed the victim.  There is room here for a conciliation process, opening the archives, a truth commission.  There is room for compensation, and a beginning was actually made by Peron when he returned the war trophies, always symbolically important. The conflicts over the enormous hydroelectric installations in Itaipú at the border with Brazil could open for Brazilian generosity.  The other could find their formulas.  And the Sacred Experiment should loom high.

But, how about development?  The Anglo-American development ideology is equally market-development oriented.  And countries in Latin America toe the early Paraguayan line; like ALBA, trade for basic needs, inner growth, less inequality, equity.

Any triple alianza?  Doble, yes: the Obama administration’s military agreement with Colombia’s Uribe administration, with access and use of seven military installations–Palanquero, Malambo, Tolemaida, Larandia, Apiay, Cartagena, Malaga–to fight narcotics-funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters.  A very bad omen.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Nov 2009.

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