LATIN AMERICA

Paraguay accuses Venezuela of meddling in its affairs

Ousted leader Lugo called to testify in prosecutor's probe

Lugo speaks at a news conference following his ouster. / NORBERTO DUARTE

Ousted Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has been subpoenaed to appear next Monday before prosecutors to answer questions in an investigation over allegations that Venezuela tried to convince Paraguay's military leadership to interrupt a political trial that was taking place against him.

Lugo, a former Catholic Church bishop who took office in April 2008, was removed from the presidency on June 22 following a speedy trial held in the Senate on charges that he failed to abide by his duties. He was replaced by his vice president, Federico Franco, a move that ignited daily protests in the capital Asunción.

"The former president must present himself on Monday at the prosecutor's office so that this investigation can continue," said prosecutor Stella Mary Cano, who took testimony from the generals and two of Lugo's private secretaries.

The scandal erupted after the new Paraguayan government presented a CCTV video showing the generals meeting with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro in Asunción as Lugo's trial was taking place.

Venezuela broke off relations with Paraguay after Lugo's expulsion, and Paraguay was kicked out of the Mercosur trading bloc.

Cano said that if Lugo doesn't show up, he will be subpoenaed again with a warning. If he still refuses, the former president may be brought in by "public force," she said.

Cano added that it was still too early to determine whether Maduro "lectured" the chiefs of army, navy and air force to interfere with the political trial or "to declare the action as foreign interference in Paraguay's internal affairs."

Meeting confirmed


"Nevertheless, it has been confirmed that Maduro met with the military leaders at the military's offices inside the presidential palace, but according to the coinciding testimonies by Generals Adalberto Garcete, Miguel Christ and Juan Carlos Benítez, he only told them that replacing Lugo would lead to international sanctions against Paraguay," she said.

 Responding to charges lodged by Paraguayan Defense Minister María Liz García that the government of Hugo Chávez was trying to interfere in domestic affairs, Maduro on June 28 explained that he traveled to Asunción with other ministers from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) bloc "to speak to all sectors of Paraguayan society" and "try to convince them to prevent this embarrassing outburst that took place against the Constitution, the president and the people of Paraguay."

Marcial Congo, Lugo's private secretary, testified that Maduro was meeting privately with the military leaders while the Senate trial was ongoing.

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