Paraguay hopeful of return to Mercosur

ASUNCION, Paraguay, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- Paraguayan President Federico Franco said the landlocked country's restoration to Mercosur was only a matter of time because the neighboring countries that engineered its suspension now need Paraguay back.

Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay staged Paraguay's suspension from Mercosur and Unasur after a Senate impeachment that removed former President Fernando Lugo from power and installed Franco, his deputy, as the president.


Mercosur called the change a coup and tried, unsuccessfully, to have Paraguay voted out of the Organization of American States as well.

Independent observers told a different story, however. An OAS fact-finding mission that visited Asuncion discounted Mercosur's argument the new government was opposed to restoration of democratic rule.

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Last week, Brazil indicated it wanted Paraguay back in the organization. Franco said he felt confident the suspension could be lifted soon.

Mercosur's reasons for suspending Paraguay from the trade bloc have only redirected attention to the campaign nations' democratic record in embarrassing detail.

Brazil is shaken by corruption investigations implicating former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Argentina is facing international charges of manipulating economic growth data, suppressing labor and the media and Uruguay is frequently taken to task for chronic economic disparities.

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All three have also faced charges of discriminating against indigenous communities.

Mercosur's reported rethink on the suspension of Paraguay follows reports that Argentina and Brazil will suffer huge losses in trade and economic exchanges if their neighbor's suspension from Mercosur continues.

Paraguay's economy contracted about 1.5 percent this year but is projected to grow 9.5 percent on the back of a boom in soybean production.

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The country's expected economic growth is drawing trading partners from outside Mercosur, a fact not lost on Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said last week Paraguay could resume membership of Mercosur and Unasur without the need to wait for presidential elections next years after Paraguay's verifiable compliance with democratic rules.

"Paraguay can rejoin regional organizations once full compliance of democracy is verified by members of Mercosur and Unasur which means Paraguay will not need to wait until April 2013 presidential elections," Patriota said.

He welcomed Franco's pledge to have elections next year. Analysts said Franco had promised to have the elections soon after coming to power and Patriota's comment indicated Mercosur eagerness to mend fences with Paraguay.

After repeated criticisms of Paraguay, Uruguay too has been speaking of the healing of wounds over time.

"We expect the electoral process to be clean, transparent, and clear and with guarantees for all involved particularly for those who have been removed from office, and more specifically President Lugo and left wing sectors," Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro said.

Patriota said Mercosur had done its utmost to ensure the suspension didn't affect the Paraguayan people or economy, a remark described by analysts as a conciliatory gesture.

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