Paraguay’s new government, which came to power in a “parliamentary coup” that removed elected President Fernando Lugo, has cut relations with Venezuela after accusing it of meddling in Paraguay’s internal affairs.
However, several Latin American diplomats and media sources have cast doubt on the allegations.
Paraguay's foreign ministry announced the withdrawal of its ambassador to Venezuela and declared Venezuela’s envoy to Asuncion a “persona non grata” due to “serious evidence of intervention … in the internal affairs of the Republic of Paraguay” by Venezuelan officials.
The allegations are based on videos released on July 3 by Paraguay’s new defence minister Maria Liz Garcia, which purport to show Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro and Ecuadorian ambassador Julio Prado inciting a rebellion among high-ranking figures in the Paraguayan military.
Garcia accused Maduro of encouraging military figures to remain loyal to Lugo on the day of his impeachment trial on June 22, before Lugo was rapidly dismissed from office by the Paraguayan senate. Many Latin American countries, including Venezuela, called the move an “institutional coup”.
Maduro was in Paraguay as part of a delegation from the 12-member Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to try and mediate Paraguay’s political crisis before Lugo’s dismissal.
The Venezuelan government has not yet issued a formal response to the accusation of intervention. However a legislator of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Carlos Sierra, described it as “totally false”.
“It’s a totally edited, distorted video,” he said on July 4. “Maduro was trying to resolve the [Paraguayan] situation with the UNASUR delegation and what they want is to manipulate it by saying that our foreign minister is inciting the military.”
He described the new Paraguayan government of Federico Franco as “dictatorial, anti-popular.” Sierra described the coup as “quite simply against the ALBA” — a reference to the anti-imperialist political bloc in Latin America lead by Venezuela and Cuba.
Venezuela President Hugo Chavez termed Lugo’s ouster a “state coup”, cutting oil supplies and withdrawing the Venezuelan ambassador from Paraguay in response.
Paraguay has been temporarily suspended from UNASUR over the coup, as well as from the Market of the South (Mercosur) trade bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
The suspension of Paraguay from Mercosur, whose senate had been blocking Venezuela’s entrance for years, paved the way for Venezuela to finally become a full Mercosur member last week.
Various diplomatic and media sources in Latin America have cast doubt upon Paraguay’s accusations of Venezuela meddling in its internal affairs.
The Paraguayan daily paper Ultima Hora said that in the video, “Maduro, Prado, other UNASUR foreign ministers, senior figures, and various others are observed, but no meeting between the Venezuelan [Maduro] with military figures is seen nor conversations distinguished in the small parts with audio”.
Lugo said the video was a “crude framing” to “compromise” foreign figures to “divert attention” from the details of his removal. Lugo is seeking to have his sacking nullified in Paraguay’s Supreme Court.
Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino also rejected the video evidence. He said: “We never attended a meeting with military figures.”
Venezuela’s conservative opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, has sided with Paraguay’s new government in the dispute.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]