Venezuela Expels Paraguayan Diplomats

Rachael Boothroyd

The Venezuelan government has revoked the visas and diplomatic credentials of the Paraguayan government’s envoys in Caracas, in response to the expulsion of former Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicolas Maduro, and Venezuelan envoy, José Arrúe, from Paraguay in July earlier this year.

Both Maduro and Arrué were declared “personas non-grate” and told to leave Paraguay immediately in the aftermath of the Paraguayan coup, which saw the elected president, Fernando Lugo, replaced by the Liberal party’s Federico Franco. Lugo, a liberation theology priest, was impeached by the country’s staunchly conservative Senate on 22 June, in a move which has been described as an “institutional coup” by other Latin American governments.

Following the impeachment, the Paraguayan government also withdrew its ambassador to Caracas, claiming that the Chavez administration was “intervening” in its internal affairs. The Franco government referenced the emergence of a video which allegedly showed Nicolas Maduro “inciting rebellion” amongst the Paraguayan armed forces as justification for the expulsion.

Prior to being expelled, Maduro had flown to Paraguay as part of a 12-member delegation of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) countries who had been sent to mediate talks prior to Lugo’s impeachment. Maduro denied the allegations of the Franco government and was supported by both the Ecuadorean and Colombian ministers on the delegation.

The decision represents a worsening of diplomatic relations between the Franco government and the Chavez administration, which also suspended oil shipments to Paraguay indefinitely following Lugo’s removal.

Confirming the decision to revoke the Paraguayan diplomats’ credentials yesterday, the Venezuelan government described the move as a “formality” and maintained that the government had given the diplomats ample time to leave the country.

“The Paraguayan ambassador (Augusto Ocampos) left, but the other diplomatic staff didn’t. We gave them a reasonable length of time and when they didn’t (leave), their credentials and visas were revoked,” said a representative for the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Ministry. The diplomats now have 72 hours to leave the country.

The move has received strong criticism in Paraguay, with the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Félix Fernández Estigarribia, describing the decision as “drastic” and complaining that the Paraguayan government had only been informed of the expulsion by telephone. Estigarribia also asked Venezuela not to “complicate” issues for Paraguay, which was suspended from UNASUR following the removal of Lugo, as it attempts to re-establish normal diplomatic relations abroad.

“From an unpredictable government you can expect anything,” said Estigarribia, in reference to the Chavez administration.

Spokespeople from the Venezuelan opposition coalition, the MUD, have also criticised the way in which the Chavez government has handled the situation, with MUD spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Edmundo González, describing the government’s actions as “hardly serious.”

The MUD has also refused to recognise Lugo’s impeachment as a coup at the time and sided with the Franco government against the Chavez administration, calling Maduro’s expulsion a “logical consequence… given (his) excesses.”

Paraguay is due to hold presidential elections in April 2013, and although Lugo has expressed his intention to stand, it is unclear as to whether the country’s legal institutions will allow his candidacy.

In an interview earlier this week with Argentina’s state TV channel, Lugo asserted that the coup had come about through a “triple alliance” between the national oligarchy, the country’s traditional political parties and multinational corporations. He maintained that the country’s democracy has been “wounded” as a result of the coup.

The Lugo government, which formed part of a coalition with Franco’s party, enjoyed friendly relations with the Chavez administration and other leftist governments across the region. Many Latin American governments do not view the current Franco administration as having a popular mandate.

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