The newly-installed President of Paraguay Federico Franco spoke exclusively to Speroforum during my recent return to Paraguay where I once served as a Peace Corps volunteer. President Franco has been assailed by the governments of neighboring Brazil and Argentina, as well as Venezuela, for having taken the reins of government following the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo by Paraguay's Congress. Accused by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of an anti-democratic and "soft coup d'etat", Paraguay was suspended from the MERCOSUR and UNASUR regional groupings.
Franco is a medical doctor, but has had extensive political experience. He has served as mayor of the city of Fernando de la Mora, and was governor of the Central province for five years. In 2008, he was elected to the post of Vice President and served under President Fernando Lugo. He is a member of the Authentic Liberal Party.
What is the current political situation in Paraguay and its contribution to democracy in South America. Also, what is the status of relations between Paraguay and the United States?
President Federico Franco:
First, …I want to extend my greetings to the entire American nation. Secondly, Peter, we are embarked upon consolidating the government, to provide governance, and once this is stable we will occupy ourselves with our difficulties with our neighbors. Our priority now is to be entirely focused on the programs and projects of the former government so that they will be beneficial and useful to the community; all of them will continue. We will comply with all of our international commitments, while will are also focused on accelerating and improving the bills before congress so that the country can leave behind this situation and faithfully move towards the conquest of better living conditions, and a better future for Paraguayans.
At what level is the cooperation between Paraguay and the European Union?
Cooperation from the European Union to Paraguay rose to the amount of 130,000,000 euros during the current funding period (2007-2013). It continues to be firmly interested in the political and economic development of Paraguay, at the bilateral level of relations, as well as at the regional level through MERCOSUR, South America and Latin America. In April 2012, there was the 7th Meeting of the Combined Paraguay-EU Commission. There it was noted that the current government is striving to achieve cohesion on the part of the various political and economic sectors with the goal of achieving a structural transformation that will permit a democracy with greater wellbeing and better quality.
There are three bases for cooperation with the European Union that are being negotiated: 1) Technical Assistance so that our country can be competitive and productive, our region above all and looking toward the future, within the EU market. 2) Investment and Industrialization: Paraguay offers itself to the EU as a base of operations for production. 3) Political cooperation: Paraguay will support the European Union in its relations with other countries of the region, since democracy allows the country to take a leadership role in the area and may serve as a voice for the European Union within the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Efforts are being made to strength the effectiveness of international cooperation in Paraguay from various countries and international organizations. Paraguay, for the first time, served as the host of the Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State. Over two days, October 28-29, 2011, representatives from the 22 countries comprising the bloc and representatives of international organizations, met at Luque and Asunción to discuss the transformation of the State and development in Ibero-America. Besides, the World Business Organization recognized our country for the economic and commercial policies implemented, which had allowed it to double its per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in five years.
What do you think of the lack of support on the part of MERCOSUR and UNASUR towards the government of Paraguay?
MERCOSUR is what concerns me; MERCOSUR worries me because this bloc is an agreement, a market, a market that has economic/financial implications. UNASUR does not worry me too much: we know that there are other interests there, there are ideological issues; it is not a priority. Today my priority is MERCOSUR, especially.
PT: What are the priorities of President Federico Franco in its relations with the United States?
Franco: First, it is to maintain good relations, continue the programs that are provided by the American government, to see whether there are other programs for which we have not applied; strengthen our resolve to strongly combat narcotrafficking. And also the fight against what we call state terrorism and the presence of the Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army). These are our priorities at the moment and surely, are time passes, they will have a greater presence. We know that the effective presence and effective collaboration on the part of the USA, with a project like SENAD, and also against the infringement of intellectual property will be issues that will strengthen and maintain and, in some cases, accentuate.
What would you say to American business people who may be interested in investing in Paraguay?
That they should come; they will be received with open arms and they will have an absolute guarantee of the safety of their investment in terms of law, policy and taxation.
Why do you think that the international media have described the events of June 22 as an institutional coup d’etat when Paraguay’s congress impeached former President Fernando Lugo?
It is not the international press, they are just a few media. In Brazil, not all of the media describes it the same way. Nor in Argentina, even while there are some sectors of the press, just as within the majority of Paraguayan citizens that is following the process, there is a small group that it is, finally, a group that rejects the political judgment. We, of course, quite strongly affirm that it was a strictly constitutional and legal measure. This is what we manifested to Secretary General José Miguel Insulza of the Organization of American States, who ratified the decision.