Fernando Lugo, Paraguay
On June 22, 2012, the left-leaning president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in what some called an “institutional coup”. Upset with Lugo for disrupting 61-years of one party rule, Paraguay’s ruling class claimed he was responsible for a murky incident that left 17 peasants and police dead and the senate voted to impeach the president. The vast majority of countries in the hemisphere refused to recognize the new government. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) suspended Paraguay’s membership after Lugo’s ouster, as did the MERCOSUR trading bloc. In early August the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported: “Not a single Latin American government has recognized [Federico] Franco’s presidency.”
But Canada was one of only a handful of countries in the world that immediately recognized the new government. “Canada notes that Fernando Lugo has accepted the decision of the Paraguayan Senate to impeach him and that a new president, Federico Franco, has been sworn in,” said Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the day after the coup. This statement was premature. After a confusing initial statement, Lugo rejected his ouster and announced the creation of a parallel government.
A week after the coup Canada participated in an Organization of American States (OAS) mission that many member countries opposed. Largely designed to undermine those countries calling for Paraguay’s suspension from the OAS, delegates from the US, Canada, Haiti, Honduras and Mexico traveled to Paraguay to investigate Lugo’s removal from office. The delegation concluded that the OAS should not suspend Paraguay, which displeased many South American countries.
In an interview three weeks after his ouster Lugo alluded to Ottawa’s hostility. “With the current polarization between the United States, Canada and Mexico on one end and South America on the other, we have tried to find regional alternatives. The coup d’etat now attempts to attack the [South American] regional integration efforts.”
On a couple of occasions the overthrown president claimed Canadian economic interests contributed to the coup. “Those who pushed for the coup are those who want to solidify the negotiations with the multinational Rio Tinto Alcan, betraying the energetic sovereignty and interests of our country,” Lugo told his supporters one month after the coup.
In 2010 Montréal-based Rio Tinto Alcan, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, began lobbying the Paraguayan government for subsidized electricity to set up a multibillion-dollar aluminum plant near the Paraná River. The post-coup president announced that negotiations with Rio Tinto Alcan would be fast tracked.