South American summit bars new Paraguay leader after ‘parliamentary coup’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 24, 2012 18:59 EDT
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Former Paraguay President Fernando Lugo via AFP
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Paraguay’s new president was barred Sunday from participating in a summit of South American presidents next week, deepening the country’s isolation over the ouster of former president Fernando Lugo.

Argentina’s foreign ministry said the move was adopted by the other members and associate states of Mercosur, a South American trading bloc that is scheduled to meet Thursday and Friday in Mendoza, Argentina.

The statement expressed the group’s “most energetic condemnation of the rupture of the democratic order that occurred in the Republic of Paraguay, for not having respected due process.”

The summit had loomed as a key test for Paraguay’s President Federico Franco, who has so far failed to gain international recognition for the government that replaced Lugo.

Lugo told reporters earlier Sunday that he planned to go to the summit, calling his sudden impeachment and ouster by a Senate vote on Friday a “parliamentary coup d’etat.”

Franco’s government “is a false government,” Lugo added. “The public does not accept a government that has broken the institution of the republic. You cannot collaborate with a government that its people do not consider legitimate.”

“We will undertake every sort of peaceful protest (to press) for the return of constitutional order that was interrupted,” Lugo said.

Paraguay’s newly named Foreign Minister Jose Felix Fernandez had said he would attend the summit with a Paraguayan delegation. Franco had indicated he might not go if his presence would make matters worse.

The Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, also was preparing to hold a meeting in Lima in the coming days to discuss the situation in Paraguay, which currently holds the presidency of the regional grouping.

Lugo said he had communicated with Peru’s President Ollanta Humala, whose country is next in line to be president of the group.

“We are going to move up that transfer (of the presidency)… also for next week,” Lugo said.

Lugo, a leftist former Catholic priest, was hauled before the Senate on Friday to face charges that he had poorly managed a land dispute that erupted in an armed clash June 15 between police and squatters.

Six police officers and 11 landless peasants were killed in an exchange of gunfire that erupted when police tried to evict the squatters from land owned by a wealthy opponent of Lugo.

The Senate voted 39-4 on Friday to impeach Lugo, who initially accepted the verdict and stepped down.

Oil-rich Venezuela, whose membership of Mercosur has been blocked by Paraguay, recalled its ambassador to Asuncion and halted oil shipments over the move, with Chavez saying he would do nothing to support “this coup.”

Chavez likened the turn of events in Paraguay to the coup that toppled Honduras’ president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, which plunged the Central American country into an 18-month-long constitutional crisis.

“For us, the president of Paraguay is still Fernando Lugo. We do not recognize this new government,” Chavez said in Caracas.

Argentina, which has condemned the move as a thinly-veiled “coup,” has also pulled its ambassador from the country, while Brazil and Uruguay have recalled their envoys for consultations. Chile, an associate member of South America’s leading trading bloc, has recalled its ambassador as well.

Colombia said it was recalling its ambassador for consultations, and El Salvador said it would not recognize the new government.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said that at the UNASUR summit, his country would propose a return to “democratic order” in Paraguay. “We cannot gloss over this legalistic nonsense,” he added.

In an interview with AFP on Saturday, Franco had said he might stay away from the Mercosur summit.

“Let’s wait and see what happens in the coming days. We will take the pulse and will decide accordingly. But I think the most important thing right now is to get our house in order. Everything is very new and it is not very wise to leave the country right now.”

Photo AFP, Pablo Porciuncula

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