Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Paraguay leader stands by claims on Venezuela

‘STATE OF HARMONY’:Paraguay’s new president said Venezuela’s defense minister tried to convince the military to ignore his predecessor’s impeachment

AP, ASUNCION, PARAGUAY

Newly appointed Paraguayan President Federico Franco, left, inspects a military honor guard after presiding over the swearing-in of Colonel Juan Jose Casaccia Furiasse, not pictured, as the new commander of the Presidential Escort Regiment, in Asuncion, Paraguay, on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

Paraguay’s new president on Thursday backed his defense minister’s claim that Venezuela’s foreign minister tried to convince the country’s military leaders to support former Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo in the face of a Paraguayan Senate impeachment trial.

Paraguayan Defense Minister Maria Liz Arnold said the Venezuelan official met with a group of Paraguayan army, navy and air force brass on the day Lugo was ousted and asked them to back the former Roman Catholic bishop-turned-president. She said the officers declined to challenge the decision by Paraguay’s Senate to oust the leftist Lugo on June 22. Venezuelan officials declined to comment on the allegation.

“The minister’s complaint is absolutely true,” Paraguayan President Federico Franco said in an interview on Thursday.

“The decisions were taken to show by example that here we don’t tolerate military men who want to turn themselves into [policy] deciders or who accept recommendations or suggestions from foreign countries,” Franco said, in an apparent reference to his dismissal of General Angel Vallovera, whom Paraguay’s defense minister had said was instrumental in organizing the meeting.

Asked whether the alleged meeting constituted a bid by Venezuela, which is led by leftist firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to meddle in the internal affairs of other nations, Franco responded glibly: “You are so intelligent that I couldn’t have said it more clearly or succinctly myself.”

In her comments at a press conference on Thursday, Arnold said the alleged meeting between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and the Paraguayan military brass took place on June 22 in the government palace, just 200m from the Paraguayan Senate building, where the leftist Lugo was being booted out in a fast-track trial that lasted only hours. He was found guilty of “poor performance of his duties” for failing to avoid a clash between police and landless peasants that left 17 people dead.

Though pro-Lugo protests were held during last week’s impeachment process, they largely faded after he was dismissed and left the presidential palace.

Some foreign governments, including that of Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil among others, have complained about the swiftness with which Lugo was impeached, saying it did not allow him an adequate defense, but Franco has defended the procedures that propelled him to the country’s top position.

“I categorically reject allegations of a legislative coup or an institutional break,” he said.

The impeachment “was carried out freely, broadcast live to the country and to the world, there were no scrapes, nobody had even their left pinky finger scraped, no one at all.”

Ahead of the two-day Mercosur summit being held in Mendoza, Argentina, on Thursday and yesterday, some analysts had anticipated the South American trade bloc’s other member states — Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay — might propose sanctions against Paraguay in retaliation for the ouster.

However, Brazil’s foreign minister told journalists that sanctions were unlikely and that the bloc would likely settle on prolonging Paraguay’s suspension.

Franco said the current ban on his government’s attending the meeting of the Mercosur South American trade bloc was already punishment enough.

“This political sanction, god will help us manage it and will give us the wisdom to soon find a solution to this problem,” he said.

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