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South Americans bar new Paraguay leader

25 June 2012, 11:39

 Asuncion - Paraguay's new president was barred on Sunday from participating in a summit of South American leaders next week, deepening the country's isolation over the ousting 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 on Thursday and Friday in the Argentine city of Mendoza.

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 on 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."

UNASUR meeting

"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 15 June between police and squatters.

Membership blocked

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 recognise 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, as has Ecuador, while Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and Colombia said they were recalling their envoys for consultations.

Return to democracy

El Salvador said it would not recognise 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.

But a foreign policy advisor 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".

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."


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