ASUNCION – Newly sworn-in Paraguayan President Federico Franco said on Saturday that Congress’ ouster of his predecessor, Fernando Lugo, did not constitute a coup and that he is confident he can secure full regional recognition for his government.
At his first press conference with international correspondents, the president acknowledged that his position “isn’t easy” and that “there are problems with the international community,” but he defended the legality of the swift impeachment trial that on Friday led to Lugo’s removal from office.
“There is no coup here, no institutional breakdown. It’s a legal step that the constitution and the laws of my country permit in order to make a change with the situation becomes unworkable,” Franco, who had served as Lugo’s vice president, said.
Only four of the 43 senators present at Friday’s session voted against finding Lugo guilty of misfeasance for the events of June 15, when seven police and nine squatters were killed in a clash in the northeastern province of Canindeyu.
The opposition-dominated lower house voted overwhelmingly Thursday to impeach Lugo and the Senate adopted a schedule that called for the president’s trial to begin at 12:00 p.m. Friday and a verdict to be rendered before nightfall.
Hopes for significant change under Lugo went largely unfulfilled, due in part to his personal problem.
After finding himself forced to acknowledge fathering children during his years in the church, Lugo endured a months-long battle with cancer.
The governments of Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Dominican Republic and Venezuela called the removal of Lugo from office a “coup d’etat” and said they will not recognize the new head of state. Costa Rica even offered asylum to the ousted president.
Regional heavyweight Brazil, officials of its Foreign Ministry said on Saturday, is consulting with the other 11 members of the Union of South American Nations before stating its position with regard to the new Paraguayan government.
A delegation of foreign ministers from the South American bloc attempted right up to Friday to mediate the Paraguayan crisis, warning that it could lead to a breakdown of democracy if Lugo did not receive guarantees for his defense in the impeachment proceedings, given the haste shown throughout the process.
“Unasur will take its decision...First we must receive word from the bloc, the arguments. Paraguay is a sovereign, free and independent country. We know about the crisis, we know that our friends in Unasur will understand the situation,” Franco said.
“I am at peace,” he said, adding that his priority now is “to put the house in order” and then to “make contact with neighboring countries at the opportune moment.”
“I’m absolutely sure they will understand the situation in Paraguay,” he said, referring to the calm reigning in the streets and the “unanimous” support that the change in power has had in his country, both from the Catholic Church and the political parties.
As for the next Mercosur summit – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay – Franco said his government has received no “clear invitation” and that he does not wish to “force the situation” since the priority “is to put the house in order.”
To that effect, he will announce new ministerial appointments next Monday, following the Friday night’s replacement of the interior and foreign ministers.
Once those ministries are “operative, the next step will be to make contact with the presidents (of neighboring countries), and so I will,” he said.
Paraguay’s next general election is set for April 2013.