By Peter M. Tase
The Curuguaty Massacre of June 15, 2012, in the Department of Canindeyu, brought an abrupt end to Fernando Lugo’s 46-month-long Bolivarian-style presidency in Paraguay. Even though the massacre took the lives of 11 poor landless farmers and six police officers, among them a police deputy who was an FBI Academy graduate, Lugo did never appear in a press conference to clarify the situation and announce the further investigative measures expected to be taken, he briefly attended the official swearing in ceremony of Paraguay’s new Interior Minister whom Lugo nominated without consulting with then Vice President Federico Franco.
On June 19th the largest opposition group, the Colorado Party announced its initiative to open a political impeachment procedure against Fernando Lugo in the National Congress, a process that would last only three days and culminate with Federico Franco Gomez becoming the newly elected president of the country and interestingly enough these three days of political turmoil, assured the national and international public that Paraguay has independent institutions and has the maturity to raise democratic standards into highest levels, indeed the political impeachment initiated by Colorado Party was also supported by the Liberal Party, the largest party of the alliance which elected Lugo as president on April 20th, 2008.
As the new Paraguayan President swore in office, Argentina and Brazil begun a campaign of political isolationism against Paraguay, in the regional alliances such as MERCOSUR, UNASUR and OAS, in the latter structure they were unsuccessful to move forward their agenda of blocking Paraguay’s contributions in international Diplomacy. Argentina’s president has openly stated her views against the newly appointed Paraguayan President, she has even ordered her diplomats in Rome to do the best they can to marginalize and suspend Paraguayan diplomats from attending FAO Technical meetings and in November 16-17, Cadiz, Spain, where Fernandez de Kirchner announced her unwillingness to participate if Franco was invited to attend the XXII Ibero-American Summit. As the two largest members of MERCOSUR, Argentina and Brazil, where the main promoters and successfully achieved their intentions to suspend Paraguay’s membership from this regional trade block and from UNASUR.
Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, has maintained the same line as Argentina, towards the status of Paraguay, she has been joined by other regional leftist governments such as Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba. She continues to keep a firm political stature and is unwilling to budge in regards to her “criticism” on how Mr. Lugo was ousted from office.
on January 27-28, 2013, in the first CELAC Summit in Santiago, Chile, Brazilian Delegation led by its foreign Minister, Antonio Patriota, showed a great interest to work hand in hand with other member countries of CELAC (Latin American and Caribbean Economic Community), a recently established competitor of the OAS which plans to take over the responsibilities and regional initiatives originated at the OAS headquarters in Washington. During this opportunity CELAC leaders had also attended the CELAC-EU Summit in which participated more than 20 leaders from EU countries.
According to Patriota, “The interconnection of Latin America and the Caribbean means the gradual strengthening of CELAC but at the same time demands a reassessment of the regional integration processes.” Although in theory, Brazilian diplomats are open to regional collaboration, their anti-Paraguayan position of the last seven months proves the contrary to what minister Patriota had stated in his remarks before the first CELAC Summit. With the suspension of Paraguay’s membership from MERCOSUR, was fulfilled a long last dream of Venezuela to become part of the block, since the National Congress of Asuncion was the only legislature that had refused to accept Venezuela’s membership into MERCOSUR. Another part of the regional geo-strategic chess game played by Argentina and Brazil is their desire to isolate a genuine and a historic US ally such as Paraguay.
Finally, Asuncion is beginning to reshape its foreign policy strategy and become more active in its relations with the United States and only recently has requested to become more commercially involved with the four member countries of the Pacific alliance. Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru are the four countries that integrate this alliance and it is expected by April, 2013, to have 90% of all goods and products to be exported within the four countries’ markets without any additional taxes or export fees.
According to Chilean minister, Alfredo Moreno “The Pacific Alliance, represents 35% of the regions’ Gross Domestic Product, and more than 50% of the exports and has the largest share of Foreign Direct Investments Capital.
With more than seven months under an unprecedented political isolation by its neighbours, Paraguay is exploring to become an observing member of the Pacific Alliance.
This month, Paraguayan Foreign Minister, Fernandez Estigarribia handed an official request on behalf of his government to Ernesto Campos Tenorio, General Director of Latin America and Caribbean section in the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, demonstrating his country’s interest to join the Pacific Alliance as an observer. In his press conference of June 28th, minister Estigarribia made public this request that was also sent to Peruvian, Colombian and Chilean ministries. He was enthusiastic to articulate that Paraguay is looking for new markets and opportunities in order to establish new strategic alliances.
In the same line with Estagarribia, the president of the Paraguayan Industrial Union (PIU) Eduardo Felippo, has also demonstrated his support towards Paraguay’s membership in the Pacific Alliance, for which he is optimistic that it will bring more results than what MERCOSUR has done in the past.
Filippo stated that current entrepreneurs “are not thinking under MERCOSUR terms, it has unfortunately turned to be more of a political club than a regional trade block, especially after Venezuela’s accession, in July, 2012.” As weeks go by, Paraguayan business leaders are looking more into the Pacific Alliance and a potential partnership with the US administration and private sector.
In addition to Estigarribia’s statements, Former Foreign Minister, Leila Rachid has noted that Paraguay should not stop in the search for new markets and free trade, Pacific Alliance is the best option, being led by Mexico, a country on the door step of United States”
On the other hand another Paraguayan Former Diplomacy chief, Luis Ramírez Boettner, has noted in a conversation with Martin Barillas “that UNASUR has been a headache for Asuncion, whereas MERCOSUR, continues to place commercial obstacles to Paraguayan businesses.” Boettner is hopeful that Paraguay will continue to defend its interests and begin pursuing a legal battle against MERCOSUR member countries which caused so much havoc and damage to Asuncion’s image abroad.
Spero columnist Peter M. Tase, writes on Latin American Diplomacy and Trade Issues