New Paraguay leader scrambles to quell criticism
ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguay’s new president said he believes South American leaders will come to see the legitimacy of a fast impeachment trial that ousted his predecessor from office in two days and prompted criticism in the region and beyond.
Federico Franco, the former vice president, was sworn in on Friday after Congress voted overwhelmingly to remove Fernando Lugo from office, saying he had failed to fulfil his duties to maintain social harmony.
Lugo’s ouster came in response to clashes over a land eviction that killed 17 police and peasant farmers a week earlier. He was a year away from completing a five-year term.
The trial’s unprecedented speed raised concerns throughout the hemisphere. Leftist leaders in Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador said they would not recognize the new administration and vowed to lobby for sanctions against Paraguay.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who called Lugo’s ouster a “coup,” said measures could be adopted against Paraguay within the Mercosur trade bloc, which groups its neighbours Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
In theory, Paraguay could face suspension by Mercosur for violating the group’s democratic principles. Brazil’s foreign minister said leaders would discuss the situation next week at a Mercosur summit in Argentina.
“We will make contact with neighboring countries and I’m sure they will comprehend the situation in Paraguay,” Franco told a news conference in the presidential palace on Saturday.
“At no time was there a rupture or a coup, there was simply a change of leadership in line with the constitution and the country’s laws,” said Franco, a 49-year-old doctor whose Liberal Party broke ranks with Lugo, paving the way for his removal.
Lugo decried his impeachment but said on Friday he accepted the decision of Congress and stepped down. The silver-haired former Catholic bishop has been holed up at home ever since.
Lugo has received phone calls from presidents in the region expressing their solidarity, according to his close ally, Sen Jose Alberto Grillon.
The capital of Asuncion felt oddly normal yesterday, with businesses opening as usual and few police officers patrolling the streets a day after they clashed briefly with protesters outside the congressional building.
Paraguay is one of South America’s poorest countries and it has a long history of political instability and military rule.