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Column 070912 Brewer

Monday, July 9, 2012

Claims of Venezuela Meddling in Paraguay's National Affairs

By Jerry Brewer

The removal of Paraguay's leftist president, Fernando Lugo, last month* brought on the usual accusations and the propensity of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to interfere in Latin American neighborhood politics. Of course, Chavez's lead was diligently followed by sharp criticism of the Paraguayan government from his left-leaning minions throughout the hemisphere.

The ritual two-step banter was quick to play out as the new government of Paraguay ordered home its ambassador in Venezuela, citing "the grave evidence of intervention by Venezuelan officials in the internal affairs of Paraguay." And Hugo Chavez was quick to demonstrate his own weak upper hand, ordering his military attachés to leave the Venezuelan Embassy in Asuncion (reportedly sending them to Argentina).

Venezuela's ambassador had left Paraguay a week earlier, when he was called home for consultations by Chavez amid accusations that Venezuela was "preparing a coup." Chavez's translation of the facts did not resemble Paraguay's "new government" version that accused "Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro of trying to persuade Paraguayan military officers to rise up in support of the leftist Lugo during the impeachment process."

Chavez has vehemently opposed the congressional impeachment of President Fernando Lugo, an ally of Chavez. Lugo was replaced by Vice President Federico Franco, who is expected to serve out Lugo's presidential term that ends in August 2013.

The Paraguayan foreign ministry said last week that there is "serious evidence of intervention by Venezuelan officials in the internal affairs of Paraguay." In defense with alleged proof, Paraguay's defense minister presented a video from a security camera that showed Maduro "going into the meeting with military officers." Chavez denied the evidence of the video, stating it was taken out of context and called those who have taken power in Paraguay a "dictatorial" group.

With apparent demonstrative evidence of Venezuelan meddling, Chavez as a master of deception reverted to his usual standby alibi -- the U.S. was behind it. Chavez indicated that his suspicion was that the "U.S. government had a hand in Lugo's ouster," referring to a "decision of the Pentagon." As always, he offered no evidence to support his theory. Too, in his usual retaliatory fashion Chavez ordered a halt of oil shipments to Paraguay.

Hugo Chavez's short memory fails to recall his rise to power through the traditional coup d'état.  As a career military officer, he became dissatisfied with the Venezuelan political system and founded "the secretive Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200)" in the early 1980s. Chávez led the MBR-200 in an unsuccessful coup against Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez government in 1992. Consequently Chavez was captured and imprisoned for two years.

The Chavez regime that is today closely mentored by the presidential Castro brothers of Cuba is no stranger to accusations of espionage and interference in Latin American nation's political affairs and elections.

As far back as 2006, then Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo announced that he wanted President Chavez "to respect Peru's domestic affairs."  This amid speculation that Chavez was granting illegal Peruvian immigrants Venezuelan nationality if they committed to vote for then nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala in Peru's presidential election of that year.  This ultimately resulted in Peru recalling its ambassador from Venezuela "due to open support by Chavez for presidential candidate Humala, who had previously met with Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales in Caracas."

Mexico was not immune from Chavez's manipulation and wrath as presidential candidates in that country, in 2006, were also quick to point a finger.  Roberto Madrazo of the PRI accused PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of being in contact with Chavez aides, claiming that Chavez was trying to "influence the upcoming elections."

Evidence mounted as former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda urged then President Vicente Fox to "completely break" relations with Venezuela, stating "Chavez is orchestrating a campaign throughout Latin America to interfere in elections in Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Bolivia."

U.S. officials also accused Chavez of being linked to the ongoing political crises in Nicaragua that involved a U.S. ally, former President Enrique Bolaños.  The accusations included Chavez meddling by "riling up people" to vote against U.S. backed democratic candidates in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, among others.

Similar interference and threats emerged as an angry Chavez spoke out against the removal from office of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, for attempts to alter the Honduran Constitution in order to remove presidential term limits -- as Chavez had done earlier in Venezuela.

As Paraguay stands by its authority to make political decisions within the homeland, it remains to be seen what the future may hold in a growing left-leaning political region. It clearly appears that effective U.S. policy and diplomatic engagement in Latin America must rise quickly from the smoldering ashes of previous complacency to help ensure freedoms for those that choose democracy for their homelands.

* MexiData.info note: In what some are calling "a new kind of coup," Paraguay's bicameral Congress swiftly completed its hearing and impeachment processes on June 22, 2012, and President Fernando Lugo was removed from office for "poor performance of his duties," among other charges.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at http://www.cjiausa.org/.


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