Paraguay likely to withdraw from the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) if the United States opens a permanent military base in the country
Paraguay has became a serious headache for its larger neighbous and partners in the Mercosur bloc, Argentina and Brazil, since the tiny landlocked South American nation admitted having reoriented its foreign policy toward a closer approach to Washington. Asuncion said last week that it was studying a bilateral free trade deal with the United States while diplomats did not rule out the possible establishment of a permanent US military base in the country.
Paraguay will withdraw from the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) if the United States opens a permanent military base in the country, a Paraguayan diplomatic source said on Thursday. The remarks came after Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim criticized the possible establishment of a permanent US military base in Paraguay.
“South America does not need a US military base in its territory”, said Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa last week, adding more fire to the controversy.
Rumours about the possible settlement of the US base in Paraguay flooded South American governments soon after the unexpected visit of US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to Asuncion last month. The "intervention of the US in the MERCOSUR zone," as some Brazilian officials put it, was revealed by an investigation made public in recent days by the Buenos Aires daily newspaper "Clarin."
The presence of US troops and a plan for 400 US troops to participate in military exercises in Paraguay sparkled suspicion among some neighboring countries that the US may establish a permanent base in Paraguay. Nevertheless, Paraguayan political analyst Luis Saguier Blanco told local radio station Radio 10 that the Paraguayan government "has no intention of leaving Mercosur."
Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte Frutos defended the country's sovereignthy in international relations but conceded that, according to the treaty of Mercosur, no bilateral agreement can be signed without the consent of the members of the group.
However, he said that "there has to be some sort of exception for the less-developed partners, but mostly for Paraguay, as a landlocked country." "We'll continue keeping Mercosur and the friendly relations we have with Brazil and Argentina, who are our brothers, but we have to look to the world, and explore other commercial possibilities," he said.
Leadres from the South American nations are expected to meet next month in Brazil to discuss further steps towards the regional integration. Mr. Frutos will be among them to answer questions from his collegues.
Photo: The President of Paraguay, Nicanor Duarte Frutos