The crisis triggered by the removal of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo has spilt over the borders of the country and has turned into a regional controversy that threatens to become a huge headache for Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff according to the weekly magazine Istoé, one of the two with largest circulation in Brazil.
Not only has the whole impeachment process and consequences been questioned, the dealings of Itamaraty (Foreign Affairs ministry) have put Brazil in a delicate situation with a strategic neighbour and has also worn out the command of Brazilian diplomacy.
Some sectors from the administration of President Rousseff are pressing for her to dump Foreign minsiter Antonio Patriota and already have a name to replace him, Maria Luiza Viotti head of mission before the UN in New York.
But the first to be knocked out by the situation was dismissed Ambassador Samuel Pinheiro Guimaraes who was forced to resign from his post as Mercosur high representative. He is identified as one of the two diplomats most involved in wrongly influencing the Executive in supporting drastic measures against the new Paraguayan government such as the suspension of Paraguay from Mercosur until after the 2013 elections.
Even when the political action was supported by Rousseff, the president impeded that sanctions reached economic and trade relations. Samuel Guimaraes wanted to completely isolate Paraguay, the main supplier of energy to Brazil. The proposal made his situation even more fragile and his permanence in the post became terminal. The excuse was “lack of support” and later “personal reasons”, but he was sacked, according to Istoé. He is known in Itamaraty as a member of the “beard ones” for his position favourable to Bolivarian governments such as Venezuela’s Chavez.
However he was not the only one to have disappointed President Rousseff: the other was international affairs advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia. He suggested isolating Paraguay from Mercosur and Unasur and proposed taking advantage of Paraguay’s suspension to admit Venezuela’s incorporation to Mercosur as full member.
“A proposal with no legal basis in regional agreements and forgetting the fact that Asuncion is depository of all Mercosur agreements, since in 1991 in that city the regional group was born”, indicates the article from Istoé.
These ideas cooked by leading members of Brazilian diplomacy allegedly irritated President Rousseff who was surprised by the Lugo impeachment announcement during the Rio+20 summit. The Brazilian ambassador in Asuncion Eduardo dos Santos, sent in the last six months numerous reports warning Itamaraty of the political risks and loss of governance threatening Paraguay but apparently they were taken lightly.
Nor Patriota or Marco Aurelio believed the situation was serious and pressed by Rousseff, her international affairs advisor said he had already received 23 warnings of a possible impeachment of Lugo since he took office in 2008. There was no reason to suspect the 24th would effectively materialize.
Garcia and Patriota suggested Rousseff react to the situation through Unasur so as to share responsibilities. However the mission of South American foreign ministers that landed in Asuncion on June 22, the very day the Paraguayan congress started impeachment procedures had the oppostive effect to that expected.
Fearng outside pressure could end making non viable the impeachment, the Paraguayan congress speeded the process. On learning on June 21 that the mission was travelling to Asuncion the Senate refused Lugo’s request for an additional three days to organize his defence. It was cut down to two hours meaning the mission precipitated the summary impeachment supported by an overwhelming majority of 39 votes to four. Between the start of the impeachment and the homologation of the final decision by the Supreme Court the time elapsed was 30 hours.
Vice president Federico Franco from the Liberal party was quickly sworn in to “avoid a civil war”. With the exception of minority groups there was no popular reaction, even when Lugo launched he was the victim of a “parliamentary coup”
Istoé claims the impeachment process was a kind of ‘velvet glove coup’ and although all Paraguayan congressional formalities were complied, the whole trial had been ‘pre-cooked’.
But impeahment also showed Lugo was a lonely president with minimum political support. The former bishop, preacher of the Theology of Liberation, he was elected to office by a rag-tag coalition defeating the Colorado party which has had control of Paraguay for over sixty years. But Lugo was always considered an outsider with no political experience or congressinal support. In less than three years in office all the expectations created had vanished and had little results to show.
Apparently Rousseff’s disenchantment with Patriota is not new. Since last April when the trip to Washington the Brazilian president has been furious with her minsiter. Likewise with Marco Aurelio Garcia the problem is his “big mouth” to the extent he was publicly disauthorized when he revealed that the Brazilian central bank would begin a policy of lower interest rates.
During the Paraguayan crisis Rousseff told Garcia to clearly reveal to the media that the impeachment was an “internal problem” of Paraguay, but again damage had been done since he had advanced the other position.
“Patriota did what he should have done when he first travelled to Paraguay. He was too late” according to former ambassador Jose Botafogo Goncalves Vice president from the Brazilian centre for international relations, Cebri.
“Not only was Patriota slow”, Botafogo believes the crisis should have been limited to Mercosur and ignore Unasur a new and disperse organization. Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa joined the choir of the inflamatory speech from Cristina Fernandez.
Istoé concluded that faced with the damage the strategy of Rousseff has been to try and limit the crisis to Mercosur and further more sent Gilberto Carvalho, from the Executive Secretariat to the Mercosur social summit as her representative and with powers to talk to the media.