MERCOSUR's isolation of Paraguay is strategic challenge to the United States

President Fernandez Kirchner (l) and President Dilma Roussef (r).


The new President of Paraguay, Federico Franco, is preparing to travel to New York in order to participate in the 66th Session of UN General Assembly scheduled for September 18-25.  Paraguay was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945.  Although the Guaraní- speaking nation is currently being isolated by neighboring countries, its participation at the UN is not a subject to formal invitation from UN Assembly President or Secretary General.

President Franco has repeatedly denounced actions taken by MERCOSUR  (Southern Common Market) member countries  who confirmed at the June 26-28 Mendoza Summit in Argentina the suspension of Paraguay’s  membership. As a result, MERCOSUR has shifted from its role as a regional trade block to that of a strategic alliance with a common political ideology.  The MERCOSUR countries include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The latter became a full member on July 31, following the suspension of Paraguay. Venezuela had attempted to join the trading partnership in 2006, but was blocked during the Nicanor Duarte Frutos administration of Paraguay that year.

Paraguay was suspended from MERCOSUR due to joint action taken by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, for the allegedly illegal impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo by the Paraguayan Congress. MERCOSUR decided that Paraguay had violated the Democracy Clause of MERCOSUR.  Interestingly enough, President Federico Franco’s government was not allowed to present its case during MERCOSUR Summit meetings in Argentina.

Deposed President Fernando Lugo, a defrocked Catholic bishop, was removed from office by parliamentary procedure on June 22, 2012. Mildly leftist in orientation, Lugo’s supporters hastened to his support and gathered outside the national congress to protest his removal as a politically motivated coup d’etat. Civil disturbances emerged after Lugo’s removal, and his rivals blame him for the deaths of 17 people - eight police officers and nine farmers - in armed clashes after police were ambushed by armed peasants when enforcing an eviction order against trespassers. Lugo’s opponents suggest that the police were targeted by snipers serving the cause of Lugo. Even while regional groupings, MERCOSUR and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) condemned Lugo’s removal as illegal, an investigation undertaken by the Organization of American States concluded that the impeachment process had been indeed carried out in accordance with Paraguay’s Constitution and relevant parliamentary procedure.

MERCOSUR, having been the world’s third largest trading block, has turned into a non-commercial institution: it is now an alliance consisting of countries being run by the same beliefs and integrated by a group of leftist South American presidents.  For Franco, congressional declarations by three MERCOSUR countries condemning his government are invalid, and the only thing that counts is the executive decision taken by the presidents representing their countries in this political club. With the admission of Venezuela as a full member into its structures, South America’s trading block, ceased to exist as a regional trade organization, indeed MERCOSUR has become a politically focused alliance with member countries run by socialist presidents.   According to President Franco “MERCOSUR has taken an undeserved  decision against [his] country; Paraguay, being a free and sovereign country is spared from any kind of compromise, participation and agreement in this organization.”

Paraguayan Foreign Minister Jose Felix Estigarribia announced in a press conference that his government has hired a Spanish attorney expert in international law to reverse Paraguay’s expulsion from MERCOSUR. Estigarribia stated that the expert will examine whether the Paraguayan government should bring its case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

With its MERCOSUR membership suspended, Paraguay is now politically isolated from its neighbors: a situation that has some drawing similarities to the infamous War of the Triple Alliance (1865-1870), when Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay waged a genocidal war against this landlocked nation.  Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have decided to withdraw their ambassadors from their embassies in Asunción, while the ambassadors of Brazil, Costa Rica and Nicaragua have been called home for consultations. As for Argentina and Bolivia, their ambassadors ended their respective missions. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina and President Evo Morales of Bolivia have so far  refused to send new diplomatic representatives to Paraguay.

The time has come for the people of Paraguay to debate whether or not it is beneficial to mend their fractious relationship with MERCOSUR, or to rekindle trade and security relationships with the United States and the European Union.

On August 9, the Paraguayan Senate will examine the inclusion of Venezuela as a fully fledged member of MERCOSUR. The three parliamentary political parties have adopted a unified voice against the admission of Venezuela into MERCOSUR.  In addition, the president of the Paraguayan Senate Jorge Oviedo Matto expressed his intention to introduce a bill that would define UNASUR as an organization that has no democratic principles or values.

In addition, the Paraguayan Congress condemned Brazil’s initiative to establish a military base near the Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam, which is shared by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. As of this week, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ordered the stationing of troops in the area bordering Paraguay. The Paraguayan representative to the Parliament of MERCOSUR, Alfonso Gonzales Nuñez, expressed his concern about military operation known as “Sistema Proteger” (Protect System) which was proposed by the Brazilian Armed Forces and approved by President  Rousseff.  The goals of this initiative are to guard the strategic installations, including Itaipu and strategic riverine border areas.  Brazil is proceeding with the deployment of troops without consulting with Paraguay, with which it is ostensibly at peace.

Additionally, according to Nikolas Kozloff, an expert on Latin American affairs and author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the United States, Brazil's investment and attention towards military projects has been impressive.  Rio de Janeiro hosted the 2009 Latin American Defense Show, in which participated over 100 companies that exhibited significant defense innovations and the latest aerospace and  national security technology and products.

With Venezuela’s admission to MERCOSUR, Brazil has reshaped its regional strategic interests not only in relation with neighboring Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay but also in its relations with the United States.  The recent suspension of Paraguay from MERCOSUR obliges the U.S. State Department and Pentagon to re-position their resources and rekindle American strategy in the region by becoming more aggressive, establishing a new strategy towards Brazil, while maintaining a balance of power in South America to stop the spread of socialism to Chile and Paraguay.
 

Spero columnist Peter M. Tase is a former Peace Corps volunteer who resides in Washington DC.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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