LATIN AMERICA

Regional isolation sets in as Paraguay is kicked out of Unasur

New government ponders taking neighboring nations to Hague court

A boy passes in front of anti-Lugo graffiti with the words altered to read "Power to Lugo." / A. CRISTALDO (EFE)

A high-level group from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) voted late Tuesday to ratify Paraguay's suspension from the regional bloc following the impeachment of President Fernando Lugo in June.

Meeting in Lima, Unasur officials rubber-stamped an earlier decision made in Mendoza, Argentina, where diplomats and leaders from South American nations also suspended Paraguay from the Mercosur trading bloc.

Lugo's impeachment, following a fast-track Senate trial, has practically isolated the land-locked Andean country from its neighbors.

Salomón Lerner, chairman of the Unasur high level group, explained that Tuesday's resolution was also supported by the fact that many South American nations have recalled their ambassadors from the capital Asunción, but have retained their lower-tier diplomats. "The suspension of Paraguay from Unasur remains in place," Lerner said.

"It's a gold medal"

President Federico Franco, the man who has replaced Lugo, had said earlier he wasn't concerned about Unasur's decision. "For me, it would be like a promotion, a gold medal; I am not concerned, nor will I be pushed by Unasur," he said in a radio interview.

Paraguay has said that it is studying whether to lodge a complaint with the International Court of Justice at The Hague against Mercosur nations for suspending the country from the regional trading bloc.

Lugo, a former bishop and a leftist, was kicked out by a mostly conservative Senate that put him on trial for allegedly failing to uphold his constitutional duties following a land revolt in May in which 17 people were killed, including six police officers.

After Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay had suspended Paraguay's Mercosur membership, they welcomed Venezuela into the group. Venezuela's membership had been held up for six years because Paraguay's conservative lawmakers considered that President Hugo Chávez's government was not democratic.

Meanwhile, a minister in Lugo's Cabinet was called on Tuesday to testify in an investigation by Paraguayan prosecutors over secret meetings held between top military officers and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro, as the impeachment vote was being taken.

Liz Cramer, who still serves as tourism minister, testified that Lugo was hoping to get the military to support him in case he was impeached.

As soon as he came into power, Franco released a surveillance video of generals going into a meeting room in the capitol building with Maduro just minutes before the vote.

Paraguay has accused Venezuela of trying to interfere with the country's internal affairs.

 

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