Now that Paraguay successfully held presidential elections on April 21, the inter-American system will welcome back the landlocked South American nation as a member of regional institutions.
On August 15, President-elect Horacio Cartes will take the presidential seat, and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), will lift their suspension on the country’s membership to these organizations.
However, it is debatable if Asuncion wants to become a full member of MERCOSUR once again.
A mixed regional response
Paraguay has undergone a tumultuous year, following a mid-2012 political crisis that culminated in a constitutional coup, which removed then-President Fernando Lugo from power and replaced him with Vice-President Federico Franco.
The controversial removal of Lugo brought about swift criticism from governments and organizations across the hemisphere, but it quickly became obvious that there was no unified response to the crisis, but rather governments reacted to it depending on their national interests.
South American agencies likeMERCOSUR and UNASURsuspended Paraguay’s membership after Lugo was overthrown. But while this move would normally be perceived as a statement that such agencies wanted Paraguay to respect its democratic process, these initiatives also brought about criticism.
Not long after Paraguay was suspended, Venezuela was acceptedas a member of MERCOSUR. Asuncion had been an opponent of Caracas’ membership to that particular bloc, hence, it was no surprise that Asuncion critiqued its fellow MERCOSUR members, arguing that the bloc’s members were capitalizing on Paraguay’s suspension to advance their own agendas, namely to accept Venezuela.
On the other hand, Paraguay was not suspended from other hemispheric agencies. For example, the Organization of American States (OAS), kept Asuncion as a member.
Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere at the State Department, famously declared that there was no need to suspend Paraguay from the OAS. Similarly, Jose Miguel Insulza, OAS Secretary General, declared that Paraguay would not be suspended. Thanks to this diplomatic support, Insulza received a medal by outgoing President Franco during the his recent visit to Asuncion.
Finally, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean State (CELAC) failed to create a unified stance on Paraguay. For example, while CELAC expressed that Paraguay was not suspended from that particular bloc, the country was not invited to participate in a January 2013 summit between CELAC and the European Union. Prior to the start of the summit,Paraguayan Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Felix Fernandezstated that Chile had requested to CELAC that Asuncion should not participate in the high level meeting. In other words, there were conflicting positions by Latin American multinational agencies, as well as individual governments, regarding how to treat Paraguay after Lugo’s removal.
Paraguay’s hemispheric future
Latinamericanist scholars and analysts generally assume that come August 15, whenPresident-elect Cartesis inaugurated as head of state, Paraguay will return to MERCOSUR and UNASUR. But this may not be the case. There have been reports that Paraguay does not want to return to MERCOSUR as long as Venezuela is a member.
For example, Cartes has drafted a legal document, known as the “Cartes Document,” in which he argues that “Venezuela’s incorporation as full member of MERCOSUR in July 2012, have not kept to the legal norms to which must comply the incorporation of a new member.”
It is also worth highlighting the remarks that the Paraguayan Ambassador to the U.S., Pfanni Caballero, gave during an on-the-record event on July 23 at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a think tank in Washington DC (clickherefor an audio of the presentation). In his speech, Ambassador Caballero was somewhat ambivalent on whether it was just a matter of time before Paraguay returns to MERCOSUR or if may not do so at all.
The diplomat also declared that “the fact that you [MERCOSUR] violate your own norms and regulations and laws […] make it very hard for us to consider reentering MERCOSUR without the necessary guarantees that [this] won’t happen again.”
Such sentiments will make for tense diplomatic times in South America’s immediate future. Certainly, it will be interesting to see what initiatives the Paraguayan government will want to carry out in MERCOSUR regarding Venezuela’s membership in the organization, if Asuncion actually returns to that organization.
Declarations by President Cartes and Ambassador Caballero suggest that, unsurprisingly, there is still resentment by Asuncion over its suspension to MERCOSUR.
Meanwhile, from the side of the Latin American community in general, the 2012 Paraguayan crisis brought about condemnation, including suspending the country from regional agencies and recalling ambassadors. Nevertheless, there was no regional consensus on how to deal with Asuncion after Lugo was deposed.
Given the plethora of organizations and trade blocs in the region, with varying political and economic motives, as well as overlapping membership (i.e. all of MERCOSURs members also belong to UNASUR, CELAC and the OAS), it is no surprise that there has been a lack of harmony among the region in response to Lugo’s deposition.
If Latin America’s history is any indicator, the region will likely see another internal political crisis before it is able to create a common diplomatic policy to deal with political incidents such as what happened in Paraguay.