May 24, 2013
Paraguay suspended from Mercosur as Lugo calls for return of democracy
Ousted Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo branded the country's new government illegitimate and called for democracy to be restored as neighboring countries intensified criticism of his sudden impeachment.
The Argentine Foreign Ministry informed on Sunday that all member countries of the MERCOSUR trading bloc had joined in a Declaration expressing that they “strongly condemn” the interruption of the democratic order in Paraguay.
Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have all suspended Paraguay from attending the coming MERCOSUR Presidents Summit, as well as the rehearsal meetings scheduled to take place in Mendoza between the 25 and 29 of June.
Lugo, a leftist former Roman Catholic bishop, said his removal from office was "a parliamentary coup against the will of the people" and said he would back any peaceful effort to restore democracy in the soy-exporting South American nation.
Congress voted overwhelmingly on Friday to remove Lugo from office, saying he had failed in his duty to maintain social order following a bloody land eviction.
Under the Paraguayan constitution, the impeached president was replaced by Vice President Federico Franco, a vocal critic of Lugo for much of his presidency.
Franco's newly appointed foreign minister urged Lugo to help quell the regional tensions, saying it was his "duty as a Paraguayan citizen and former president."
But Lugo refused to help his successor.
"We support any kind of peaceful effort aimed at restoring institutional order that was interrupted by Parliament," he told reporters.
"This is a fake government. You can't collaborate with a government that doesn't have legitimacy," he said, adding that he would attend a summit of the regional trade bloc Mercosur later this week to explain the situation.
Argentina, which currently holds Mercosur's rotating presidency, said Franco's government would not be allowed to attend the meeting.
In a region scarred by military coups and political upheaval in the 1970s and 1980s, the rapid nature of Lugo's impeachment by an opposition-controlled Congress has drawn strong criticism - especially from fellow leftists.
A senior Brazilian official said Paraguay would likely be suspended from the regional UNASUR grouping and from Mercosur, which also includes Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
"The point is to make this new government a pariah," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Regional powerhouse Brazil has recalled its top diplomat for consultations and the ambassador is unlikely to return while Franco remains in the presidency, the official added.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez halted oil shipments to Paraguay and withdrew his ambassador from the country. Argentina's Cristina Fernandez pulled top envoy out on Saturday.
"We don't recognize this government. I've ordered the ambassador in Asuncion to pack his things and leave," Chavez said in a speech. "We're going to stop sending oil too."
Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA supplies about a quarter of Paraguay's oil needs under a deal that lets countries buy crude on soft financing terms and even pay in farm goods.
Paraguay's state oil firm said supplies were not at risk, however, due to ample stocks and alternative providers.