Mercosur won't slap sanctions on Paraguay
By Sebastián Lacunza
The Mercosur trade bloc will not impose economic sanctions on Paraguay despite concerns over the ousting of the country's president, officials said on Thursday.
The Mercosur will suspend Paraguay from the trading bloc after the ousting of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota explained.
“All of the foreign ministers are considering a decision that will be analyzed on Friday by all presidents. We discussed the possible suspension of Paraguay from the Mercosur. We deeply regret this situation but we acknowledge that there is no democratic order there right now,” he said during a press conference.
Paraguay's Senate removed Fernando Lugo from office last Friday in an impeachment trial that lasted a matter of hours, prompting criticism in the region and beyond.
Mercosur responded by banning Paraguay from attending the bloc's summit this week. Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said that punishment would stand until democracy was fully restored in Paraguay.
A clause calling for democracy in the Mercosur bloc "first refers to the suspension of (a country's) participation in meetings, and then there's a second phrase on the suspension of rights and obligations," Patriota told reporters at the trade gathering in Mendoza, a small city in western Argentina.
"The decision was that we would limit ourselves to the first phrase," Patriota said.
Paraguay is one of South America's poorest countries. The landlocked, soy-exporting nation of 6 million people has a long history of political instability and military rule.
The UNASUR group of South American nations will hold an emergency meeting in Mendoza on Friday to discuss Lugo's swift removal, which was sparked by clashes over a land eviction that killed 17 police and peasant farmers.
UNASUR could also suspend Paraguay from its organization, saying Congress denied Lugo the right to a proper defense.
Many countries in the region have called their ambassadors back from Paraguay's capital Asuncion, permanently or for consultations. They want to send a stern warning about the consequences of removing a democratically elected leader, even if Lugo's chances of returning to power appear remote.
Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, admitted it would take a miracle to get him reinstated.
Paraguay's new president, Federico Franco, was Lugo's vice president and one of his fiercest critics. Franco has defended the constitutionality of the impeachment trial, which Paraguay's top court upheld.
"They don't have a right to kick us out of any meeting," Paraguayan Foreign Minister Jose Felix Fernandez Estigarribia said in Asunción. "We are the government of Paraguay, elected by the Congress that removed Lugo from office.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner arrived in Mendoza province this afternoon, where she will take part of the Mercosur summit in which sanctions against Paraguay over the removal from power of Fernando Lugo will be decided.
The President is accompanied by senator Beatriz Rojkes de Alperovich, Formosa province governor Gildo Insfrán, Tucumán Governor José Alperovich, Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina, Industry Min ister Débora Giorgi, Agriculture Minister Norberto Yauhar and legal and technical secretary Carlos Zannini.
The summit began with a meeting among Mercosur's foreign ministers at which Paraguayan envoy Ignacio Mendoza Unzain was denied access.
Franco's administration has been banned from attending the summit, which also groups Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and many countries have called back their ambassadors permanently or for consultations.
Officials say Paraguay could be suspended from Mercosur and the UNASUR group of South American nations, which plans to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss the matter on the sidelines of the Mercosur summit.