With Mercosur Ties Still Frayed, Paraguay Explores Pacific Alliance Options

With Mercosur Ties Still Frayed, Paraguay Explores Pacific Alliance Options

The August 2013 inauguration of new Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes provides a compelling opportunity to close the rift that opened among Mercosur members in 2012 in the aftermath of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo’s impeachment. The trade group suspended Paraguay at the time, and with Asuncion thus sidelined, the group then approved Venezuela’s accession, despite the Paraguayan legislature’s long-standing objections to Venezuelan membership. Brazil is now leading the charge to reintegrate Asuncion while keeping Caracas in the fold—and healing relations between the two. Nonetheless, despite Brazil’s well-earned reputation for diplomatic effectiveness, it won’t be an easy task.

As a founding member of Mercosur—the 1991 agreement that created the group is actually the Treaty of Asuncion—Paraguay is also a signatory to the 1998 Ushuaia Protocol on Democratic Commitment committing each party to “fully functioning democratic institutions” and envisioning the suspension of membership “in the event of a breakdown of democracy.” Paraguay’s Congress impeached and removed Lugo from office in June 2012. His opponents claimed that Lugo, a former priest who exhibited increasingly erratic behavior in office, was getting too close to then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. While the impeachment process appeared to have been conducted according to constitutional requirements, the president’s rapid removal without the opportunity to mount a considered defense raised eyebrows across the hemisphere. Observers both in and outside Paraguay generally claimed the charges were politically motivated and that Lugo’s removal constituted the suspension of democracy.

The three other Mercosur nations—Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay—agreed, and suspended Paraguay until such time as the democratic process was restored. At the same time, Paraguay’s suspension opened the door for the rapid inclusion of Venezuela, whose own request to join Mercosur had been held up by Paraguay’s Congress since 2006. The requirement for “fully functioning democratic institutions” would have seemed to be a block to Venezuela’s ambitions for membership. But with Paraguay no longer able to filibuster admission, the other three nations welcomed Venezuela into Mercosur straightaway, despite a requirement that membership can only be offered by consensus, with all current members present.

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