Paraguayan President Federico Franco is visiting Madrid to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Also on hand will be Paraguayan Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández Estigarribia, who is arranging Franco’s second official visit to Europe. This is the third official meeting of the two leaders.
Paraguay was not invited to attend the 23rd Ibero-American Summit that was held in Spain last November, due to the controversy that ensued over the impeachment and removal of former President Fernando Lugo in August 2012. Led by Argentina, a country with which Paraguay has had very ticklish relations ever since the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1870s, Latin American nations have effectively isolated the landlocked country. Several of the countries represented at the Ibero-American Summit had declared that if Paraguay were invited, they would boycott the meeting in response. The summit annually gathers heads of state and government from twenty-two nations including Spain, Portugal and Andorra. King Juan Carlos of Spain is an annual attendee.
Paraguay is facing bureaucratic delays imposed by Argentina on both riverine and land routes where Paraguayan shipping has been met with newly rigorous customs inspections. Paraguay is the world's biggest exporter of sesame seeds and one of the top producers of soy. It depends on shipping via the Parana and River Plate waterways to get its products to the world markets. Argentina, which is in direct competition with tiny Paraguay in the agricultural sector, has been a leader in serving to stem Paraguay's exports.
Franco will meet Rajoy on April 2 at the Moncloa palace in Madrid. After the meeting, Franco will then conduct a series of meetings with local business leaders and the expatriate Paraguayan community. Besides Foreign Minister Fernandez Estigarribia, Franco is accompanied by Executive Minister of Immigration Elias Samuel Lugo Gaona. Over the last 20 years, Paraguayans and other Latin Americans had flocked to Spain during a prolonged housing and construction boom. Many are now faced with unemployment and are returning to their native countries.
On April 3, Franco and Fernandez Estigarribia will head for Washington, D.C., where he will give a formal presentation before the Organization of American States on the effects Paraguay suffers since its suspension from the regional trade pacts, MERCOSUR and UNASUR. Paraguay has been politically isolated since the June 2012 impeachment of former President Lugo. A leftist and former Catholic bishop, Lugo was an ally of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.
As in the case of Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Lugo was is believed to have received millions of dollars from Chavez to support his election campaign. Lugo, who was once a popular Catholic cleric, has also been linked in the press to leftist insurgents. He was accused of poor leadership in the aftermath of shootings now known as the Curuguaty Massacre in which Paraguayan peasants and police died in a confrontation over land. In the affray, six police officers and eleven demonstrators died.
In Washington, D.C. Franco is expected to meet with the OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza and then his deliver his presentation to the body on April 5. Joining him will be Paraguayan Foreign Minister Fernández Estigarribia, and ambassadors Fernando Pfannl Caballero and Martin Sannemann.
Franco will also have meetings with representatives of the U.S. Congress, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, and the Institute of World Politics and its president John Lenczowski. The Paraguayan leader will also meet with members of the Paraguayan-American community during his visit.
Spero columnist Peter M. Tase analyses Latin American trade and diplomatic issues. Martin Barillas is the editor of Spero.