SAO PAULO, Brazil -- The governments of South America have united to punish Paraguay for removing President Fernando Lugo on Friday, suspending the country’s membership in regional organizations for what some leaders are calling a coup.
When news spread that the Paraguayan Senate had voted to oust the left-leaning former Catholic bishop, widespread condemnation came quickly from leaders in a region with bad memories of dictatorships and democratic instability. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said her government would not recognize the new government formed by Federico Franco, who served as Lugo’s vice president before turning against him.
“Argentina will not validate the coup d’etat in Paraguay,” Kirchner said. “This is about more than Lugo.... This is a definitive attack on institutions and a replay of situations we had thought were totally forgotten.”
For all of Latin America’s varied ideological stripes, the negative response was surprisingly unanimous. Left-wing governments in Venezuela and Ecuador announced they’d cut off shipments of oil. Chile’s conservative government pulled its ambassador from the country. Colombia’s president, Miguel Santos, issued a statement saying there may have been an “abuse” of the proceedings. And regional powerhouse Brazil has put forward the possibility of further sanctions against Asuncion.
U.S. State Department representative Victoria Nuland said on Monday that Washington is “quite concerned about the speed of the process used for this impeachment in Paraguay."
Paraguay has been suspended from both Unasur, or the Union of South American Nations, and Mercosur, the regional trading bloc, until new elections take place.
Mercosur will hold an emergency meeting this week in Argentina to decide what action to take against the poor, land-locked nation. Lugo continues to consider himself the legitimate president of Paraguay and said he will attend the summit to explain the situation. It’s unclear what effect the actions will have on the new government in Paraguay, which has denounced its dismissal from the organizations.
It’s also unclear why the Paraguayan Senate voted now to oust Lugo, who would have been replaced in nine months during an election in which he could not participate. The Senate's impeachment proceedings consisted of broad charges of mismanaging the country after a land dispute turned deadly. It was conducted in a matter of hours, and Lugo was not allowed to prepare his own defense. The vote was nearly unanimous.
The government of Mexico, which is not a member of the South American organizations, released a statement affirming that “even if the political judgment took place according to the procedures established in the Paraguayan Constitution, Mexico considers that the proceedings did not give ex-President Lugo the time and space needed for the defense he had a right to.”
-- Vincent Bevins
Photo: Ousted Paraguay President Fernando Lugo gives one of his bodyguards a traditional drink before a meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay. Credit: Cesar Olmedo / Associated Press