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Paraguay, Mercosur and Latin America after Lugo impeachment
   
 
 
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Paraguay, Mercosur and Latin America after Lugo impeachment

 
Tuesday, 24 July 2012 21:30
 
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The recent dismissal of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, sparked by clashes over a land eviction that killed 17 police and peasant farmers, as well as having affected the country's political life, has rebounded on the Mercosur, the Southern Common Market of which Paraguay is a founding member with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. During a recent presidential summit in Mendoza, Argentina, Mercosur's leftist leaders decided to extend Paraguay's suspension over the ouster of Lugo until democracy is restored via new elections, scheduled for April 2013; no economic sanctions were adopted against the country, but its officials will be banned from participating in Mercosur meetings. The suspension opened the way for Venezuela to be incorporated into the bloc since opposition in Paraguay's Congress was the only remaining obstacle after a six-year wait. The andean nation is going to be fully incorporated into Mercosur on July 31 at a meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

Governments in Latin America have reacted angrily to Lugo impeachment: Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have condemned the move and recalled their ambassadors for consultations. During last week summit in Argentina, they decided to send a stern warning about the consequences of removing a democratically elected leader, but they ruled out penalties that could hurt ordinary people in Paraguay, one of South America's poorest countries. «We are not in any way applying economic sanctions because our aim is to improve our people's quality of life», Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said to Reuters,  «(But we cannot) tolerate these “entle coups” or movements that - under a veneer of institutional correctness - shatter the constitutional order».

Federico Franco, who replaced Mr Lugo as President, denied that Mr Lugo's removal from office was a coup: in his first news conference, he said there had been no break with democracy. Mr Franco was Lugo's Vice-President and one of his fiercest critics. He acknowledged the impeachment had caused tensions with Paraguay neighbours: «I am calm, we are going to organise the house, we are going to contact our neighbouring countries in due time and I am absolutely certain that they are going to understand the situation in Paraguay», he said as soon as he was sworn in as Premier.

Not only Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, but also the Presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chavez, were outspoken in their criticism of the Lugo's dismissal. «The Ecuadorian government will not recognise any President that isn't Fernando Lugo», Mr Correa said. «We will not lend ourselves to these tales of alleged legal formalities, which clearly attack democracy», he added. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez displayed a similar sentiment: «In the name of the people of Venezuela and in the name of the Venezuelan government and as commander-in-chief, I'll say it. We, the Venezuelan government, the Venezuelan state, do not recognise this illegitimate and illegal government that has been installed».

As the BBC reported on 24 June, the United States and Spain avoided publicly opposing or supporting the move, instead pressing the principle of democracy in Paraguay. A statement from the Spanish Foreign Ministry said: «Spain defends full respect for democratic institutions and the state of law and trusts that Paraguay, in respect for its constitution and international commitments, will manage to handle this political crisis and safeguard the peaceful coexistence of the Paraguayan people». The United States took a similar stance.

Paraguay is a landlocked, soy-exporting nation of 6 million people, sandwiched between Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. It has a long history of political instability and military rule. Its suspension from the Mercosur will have important economic, political and social repercussions on the entire Latin America. With the entrance of Venezuela into the Latin trade bloc, South America's biggest grains and energy exporters will be united. Venezuela has the world's biggest crude oil reserves and belongs to OPEC. Socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez has governed there since 1999 and he is running for re-election again this year, despite his battle with cancer. «This is a historic day for integration», Chavez told Telesur television station by telephone, «This is win-win for everybody».

Alicia Barcena, head of the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, said to Reuters she viewed the move positively. «Mercosur has a third of the world's water reserves, a third of arable lands, more than 45 percent of soy production, and now with Venezuela's incorporation there's an expectation that energy integration could increase», she added.

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 22:18
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