Paraguay gets cold shoulder
(CNN) — Paraguay faced increasing regional isolation on Monday after several of its neighbors said over the weekend they were pulling their ambassadors out of the country in the wake of the president’s impeachment.
Chile and Venezuela recalled their ambassadors Sunday, hours after Brazil and Uruguay — two of Paraguay’s most important neighbors — did the same. Argentina recalled its ambassador on Saturday.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also said his country is halting all shipments to Paraguay.
The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said the action was because of the “breakdown of democracy” in Paraguay, and vowed to take up the impeachment with the regional blocs MERCOSUR and UNASUR.
The moves follow the lightning-quick removal from office of the president, Fernando Lugo, on Friday.
The impeachment procedures appear to have been carried out in accordance with the Paraguayan constitution, but some Latin American presidents called it a coup d’etat and refused to recognize the new president, Federico Franco.
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Lugo went from president to ousted leader in less than 48 hours.
The former Catholic bishop was unpopular with lawmakers, and many had concerns about his credibility after he admitted to fathering at least two children while still in the priesthood. In all, four women claim they had babies by Lugo while he was a bishop.
But nine days ago, there was no reason to believe that Lugo would find himself out of a job before his term ended in August 2013.
There had been calls in the past for the impeachment of Lugo, but the scandals weren’t enough to bring him down.
That changed on June 15, when the police clashed with landless peasants in eastern Paraguay, resulting in 17 deaths.
Peasants fired on police officers who were trying to evict them from private property, initiating the deadly confrontation, the local authorities and state-run media said.
The violence occurred in Curuguaty, a remote community near the Brazilian border, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion.
In response to the violence, Lugo replaced his national police chief and interior minister. Members of the country’s liberal party, which backed Lugo, were incensed to learn that the new minister was from another party.
As the outcry over the deadly clash continued, the liberal party announced Thursday that it was withdrawing its support of Lugo, and an impeachment vote was heard in the lower chamber of Congress that day. The vote in favor of impeachment was 76-1.
The next day, Lugo’s defense team had two hours to defend Lugo from what it called vague charges of incompetence. The Senate impeached the president in a 39-4 vote.
Lugo said Paraguayan history and democracy had been “deeply wounded” by the move.
The rapidness of his ouster left neighboring countries scrambling to react.
By Sunday, Brazil and Uruguay were expressing deep concerns. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry condemned the Lugo’s removal and the Uruguayan president said it wasn’t in line with democratic practices.
The presidents of Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic said they would not recognize Franco’s administration.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry and Chavez of Venezuela said the speed with which Lugo was removed didn’t give him time to mount a proper defense.
Franco reiterated that the impeachment happened within the parameters of the constitution, and pointed to the large margins by which Lugo was voted out of office.
“It means that here we have a unanimous position,” he said. “The Paraguayan people, I think, are satisfied with this decision.”
Despite the cold shoulder from neighboring countries, Franco said he would reach out to explain the legality of Lugo’s ouster and seek good relations with other countries.
He said his goal was for his presidency to be recognized internationally by the time he hands over to the next president in 2013.
Most of the countries opposed to Franco’s appointment belong to the Union of South American Nations, known as UNASUR. The foreign ministers of that regional body were in Paraguay to study the issue.
The United States reacted in a more neutral manner.
“We urge all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility, in the spirit of Paraguay’s democratic principles,” State Department spokeswoman Darla Jordan said.
CNN’s Marilia Brocchetto and Fernando del Rincon contributed to this report.