On September 20 the regional political isolation of Paraguay took on a new dimension. The Spanish government has so far refused to invite Paraguayan President Federico Franco to participate in the XXII Summit of the Ibero-American Organization ((Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos - OEI), scheduled for November 16-17 in Spain. The position taken by Spain is an unexpected turn that will further increase the isolation of Paraguay in the international arena and it may affect the bilateral relations between Spain and Paraguay in the future.
The regional isolation of Paraguay started with the Political Impeachment of Former President Fernando Lugo, in June 22nd, since then MERCOSUR member countries, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, have decided to suspend the membership of Paraguay from this trade block and admit Venezuela as a regular member without the consent of Paraguayan government. This strategy is further echoed by the recent hesitancy of the Spanish government to invite Paraguay in Cadiz. Spain has argued to Paraguayan authorities that their presence will cause a further shrinkage of delegations planning to attend the Cadiz meeting. On the other hand Spain together with Germany and the Vatican has recognized the government of Dr. Franco and took an unexpected turn regarding Paraguay’s participation in this international event.
King Juan Carlos of Spain was present in the XXI Ibero-American Summit held in Paraguay, 2011, where he witnessed firsthand the small number of presidents who were participating in this forum and the presence of Paraguay in Cadiz, will further shrink the list of other leaders invited to attend this Summit.
There is no doubt that Madrid has been pressured by the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, to bar Paraguay, clearly demonstrating the wide radius of political influence that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez exerts in South America which extends across the Atlantic. On the other hand, President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina has stated that she will not participate in the conference if the Paraguayan delegation is present.
Although King Juan Carlos and Former Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos have visited Asuncion; Paraguay has not been fully explored by Spanish companies. Spain is not a significant trading partner of Paraguay it only imports leather, lumber products, soy bean and corn products.
According to Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister , Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, "The Summit in Cadiz must demonstrate that Ibero-America is an essential, permanent and absolute priority for Spanish foreign policy. " Indeed, the recent visit of Spanish Minister of International Cooperation, Jesus de Gracias Aldaz, to Paraguay, tried to put a lid on Paraguay’s marginalization from OEI; since Spain’s position is crystal clear, it would rather welcome over twenty presidents to the summit instead of becoming a genuine advocate of democratic values and each nation’s sovereignty, standards that were held high in Paraguay, just like a Western European country ought to act.
There is no doubt that after the sessions in Spain, future Ibero-American Summits will be looked upon as forums with a tarnished reputation for having leaned towards the defense of socialist ideology intertwined with the Bolivarian aspirations of Hugo Chavez and his close associates, who are well known for human rights abuses and for censoring free media.
For Paraguayan Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández Estigarribia, his country has suffered unpleasant circumstances right from the beginning of President Franco’s administration. Fortunately, in recent weeks, the pressure from regional countries has been substantially reduced and many leaders are convinced of the legality of the peaceful government transition of June 22 in which former President Fernando Lugo was impeached and then replaced by Franco, who until then had served as Paraguay’s Vice-President. After a meeting with Minister Gracias Aldaz of Spain, Fernández Estigarribia confirmed again that Spain has not and will not invite Paraguay to participate in the upcoming summit. Fernández Estigarribia added that Gracias Aldaz explained Spain’s position, which affirmed the importance of the summit, but noted that summits “are not measured on the results of deliberations but on the number of presidents that participate in them.”
Gracias Aldaz also referred to the last year’s summit in Paraguay which was avoided by eleven Latin American presidents. President Franco has made clear his position that he will not participate in this year’s Summit. Subsequently pending projects in Education and Social services will be in a standby mode until next year, when the new Paraguayan administration will take office. The Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI) has been active in many educational projects and training of young teachers in Paraguay, as well as legislative reforms towards the bilingual education of Paraguayan students.
On September 18, the Spanish Ambassador to Paraguay,, following his meeting with Paraguay’s Deputy Foreign Minister Antonio Rivas, confirmed that Paraguay was not invited to the summit.
There are no legitimate reasons for Paraguay not to attend the Ibero-American event. The Ibero-American Organization and its Secretary General, Enrique Iglesias, have not taken any official actions or imposed political sanctions against Paraguay, so it is hard to understand Spain’s decision to bar a sovereign country and a founding member such as Paraguay.
Paraguay should not self-marginalize and the Foreign Minister Fernandez Estigarribia should insist in securing the participation of his country in this international forum, even though a formal invitation has not been received.
The attitude of Spanish government intentionally or inadvertently upholds the politically isolationist ideology of Argentina and Brazil against Paraguay, which decided to suspend Paraguay’s membership in MERCOSUR and UNASUR, while even lobbying constantly to suspend Paraguay from the Organization of American States. The current actions against it have revived the memories of Paraguay’s bloody and turbulent relations in the 19th century with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, whose respective administrations pretend to have a policy that favors democracy. However, this new policy against Paraguay has proved to be essentially congruent with the years of the War of the Triple Alliance War (1865-1870), in which nearly 60 percent of Paraguay’s population were killed and thus making the conflict the most destructive in modern history.
One could argue that the regional diplomatic chaos caused by the quick but constitutional expulsion of President Lugo was, in political terms, even worse than the political support articulated in favor of Paraguay before and after the War of the Triple Alliance, keeping in mind that Colombia was in favor of Paraguay during that armed conflict, whereas in the recent fracas it took a position in support of the disgraced former President Lugo.
In an interview given to EFE radio station, Franco clearly stated his position and reiterated that he was not invited to summit, but is scheduled to meet with Spanish President Mariano Rajoy during the United Nations General Assembly and his participation at the summit in Spain will be at the center of discussions.
Even though President Franco will not visit Spain, his administration will make clear the position of Paraguay before the world and primarily to the members of the Ibero-American Organization. President Franco emphasized that since an early age, his parents taught him “don’t go where you are not invited.”
President Franco has repeatedly expressed his government’s interest in strengthening commercial and political ties with Spain, which is considered to be Paraguay’s “mother country.” There is great potential for Spanish corporations for investment in Paraguay, considering the favorable fiscal and tributary tax system, and the high priority given to such investments by the government and the legal support for guaranteeing and safeguarding of all direct foreign investments in Paraguay.
Spero columnist Peter M. Tase is a former Peace Corps volunteer. He is an analyst of Latin American affairs.