Paraguay’s deposed ex-President Fernando Lugo has been proposed as the next Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and has the support of one of his sharpest critics, current President Horacio Cartes. While this may seem surprising considering their rivalry, it could be a calculated move to isolate a political opponent.
Yesterday, Spanish news agency EFE reported that Lugo said he had received calls from “some foreign ministers of the region” asking him about his interest in the position. UNASUR is overdue for a new secretary general, after the bloc was unable to come to a consensus in a September meeting in Suriname.
The former leader, who was elected to a senate seat in April, said he had received the endorsement of the governments Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. He also claimed that President Cartes gave his blessing for the appointment.
This is remarkable considering that UNASUR was the first international organization to condemn Lugo’s removal in June 2012. As a result of the incident, Paraguay was suspended from the regional group, as well as from the Mercosur trading bloc. While Cartes has worked hard to normalize relations with other South American nations since taking office, he has spoken out against his country’s temporary isolation in international forums. He has been especially critical of Mercosur’s decision to take advantage of Paraguay’s absence to approve the admission of Venezuela. Backing Lugo’s bid to lead UNASUR seems like a surefire way to reopen these old wounds.
However, Cartes does not see it as such. In remarks to Paraguay’s ABC Digital, the president explained his support for Lugo’s bid for UNASUR chair. “He asked me if I have a problem (with his candidacy) and for me there is no issue if he is supported by consensus. For our part, I cannot deny it, because it is a position that was always intended to be occupied by ex-presidents,” said Cartes.
The president also assured the paper that his support for Lugo was not part of a political deal, and had more to do with the requirement of consensus than his personal wishes. Still, the arrangement has clear advantages for Cartes. As Lugo pointed out to EFE, “this is a position that gets you out of the country for two years.” It would require the ex-president to abandon his senate seat and adopt a much lower profile in domestic politics. When put that way, it’s easy to interpret Cartes’ support as an attempt to neutralize a political rival.
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