ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguay’s government withdrew its ambassador from Caracas on Wednesday and declared Venezuela’s envoy no longer welcome in Asuncion in a dispute over alleged Venezuelan meddling in the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo.
The steps taken by Paraguay fell short of a full break in diplomatic relations. Venezuela’s ambassador had already left the country a week earlier.
Paraguay’s foreign ministry said its ambassador in Caracas would soon return home “due to serious evidence of intervention by Venezuelan officials in the internal affairs of Paraguay.”
Paraguay’s new president, Francisco Franco, and other politicians are furious over allegations that Venezuela, led by President Hugo Chavez, tried to persuade Paraguayan military leaders to rise up in support of the leftist Lugo during his impeachment and ouster.
Instead, Lugo was hastily voted out of office by a hostile congress.
While the impeachment process is clearly provided for in Paraguay’s constitution, which says any leader can be voted out of office for “poor performance,” Paraguay’s neighbors called it an anti-democratic “institutional coup” and have taken steps to isolate the new government. Both the Mercosur trade group and the Unasur political and defense union of South American nations suspended Paraguay until it holds a presidential election, now scheduled for April 2013.
Lugo, meanwhile, hasn’t given up his fight. His lawyers asked Paraguay’s supreme court Wednesday to nullify his removal, saying the impeachment trial was unconstitutional.
“We expect that in about 30 days the court will rule in favor of our client,” attorney Emilio Camacho told The Associated Press.
While all of Paraguay’s neighbors have distanced themselves from the new government, relations between Paraguay and Venezuela have soured the most. With Paraguay temporarily suspended from Mercosur and thus unable to maintain its resistance to Venezuela, the leaders of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay seized the opportunity last week and welcomed Chavez’s government as a full member of the trade group.
Paraguayan officials called that a fundamental violation of Mercosur’s charter.
But they are also angry over a security camera video that they say proves Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met secretly with Paraguayan military leaders in the presidential palace while senators were impeaching Lugo. They allege Maduro was trying to persuade the officers to support Lugo against an overwhelming move in Congress to remove him.
Maduro told the AP he would have no comment on Paraguay, and the Venezuelan government has not responded to the allegation of meddling in the country’s affairs.
Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.