Ousted Paraguay leader to make case at South American summit
ASUNCION — Paraguay’s ousted president Fernando Lugo said Monday he would take his case to a summit of South American leaders this week as the country’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal of his dismissal.
Lugo had filed a petition challenging his speedy impeachment and ouster last week saying he had been denied due process as guaranteed by the constitution.
But a three-judge panel of the top court rejected the appeal without comment, apparently closing a key legal avenue to the former president even as other Latin American presidents rallied behind his cause.
“It is important to underscore that the former president publicly agreed” to step aside, with all of the “consequences” such a move brings, the court ruled.
Lugo said he would attend a summit of Mercosur — South America’s biggest trading bloc — in the Argentine city of Mendoza Thursday and Friday to explain himself.
New President Federico Franco meanwhile was barred from participating in the summit after the group decided to suspend Paraguay’s membership.
“We asked Argentine President Cristina Kirchner to have a presence at this meeting so we could explain in detail what has happened here over the past week,” Lugo told a press conference.
The ousted 61-year-old, who had less than nine months to serve and was not seeking re-election as president of one of Latin America’s poorest countries, told AFP he also planned to attend an upcoming meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
UNASUR said it is preparing to meet Friday in Mendoza to discuss the situation.
The Organization of American States (OAS) originally planned to meet Wednesday on Paraguay, but moved up the meeting by a day to Tuesday.
The United States, which is a member of the OAS, has voiced concern over the speed of Lugo’s impeachment, but said it has not determined whether it was a coup.
Brazil, Paraguay’s top trading partner, which has denounced the president’s ouster, was seen as potentially playing key role in reaching a resolution.
Franco, meanwhile, swore in a new cabinet, most of whose members were drawn from Paraguay’s traditional Liberal and Colorado parties.
The suspension of Paraguay’s government from Mercosur was adopted on Sunday by the group’s full members and associate states — Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
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.”
Lugo 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, with President Hugo Chavez saying he would do nothing to support the “coup.”
Chavez likened the turn of events in Paraguay to the coup that toppled Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, plunging 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 also condemned the move as a thinly-veiled “coup,” has also pulled its ambassador from the country, as has Ecuador. Other nations were recalling their envoys for consultations.
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said his country would propose a return to “democratic order” in Paraguay. “We cannot gloss over this legalistic nonsense,” he added.
But a foreign policy adviser to the Brazilian government, Marco Aurelio Garcia, told the state-run Agencia Brasil that neither Brazil nor the other Mercosur states would intervene in Paraguay’s internal affairs.
Garcia said it was time “to let the crisis in Paraguay decant to see how it comes out.”