ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Ousted Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo said Monday that he is aiming to return to power, rallying allies at home and abroad to force congress to reverse a landslide vote to remove him that he called a break with democracy.
Lugo has created a parallel Cabinet, attacking the legitimacy of the government that replaced him, and told reporters he would plead his case on the international stage at this week's summit of the Mercosur trade bloc in Mendoza, Argentina, as well as challenging the new leaders over Paraguay's role in a broader alliance of South American nations.
He also called on domestic backers, who so far have been relatively quiet, to turn up the pressure.
"I want to resist until we regain power because here there was a parliamentary coup," he said Monday. "I call on people from the countryside, the youth and all citizens to resist until we are back in the office we unfairly had to leave."
Meanwhile aides to Lugo's former Vice President Federico Franco, who took the oath of office Friday after lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to impeach his boss, condemned a Mercosur resolution preventing his new government from attending the summit. But he noted that Paraguay has not been expelled outright from the group that also includes neighboring Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
"We reject Mercosur's decision to suspend us from the right to attend the Mercosur meetings, but I would like to make clear that Paraguay is not out of the bloc," Foreign Minister Jose Felix Fernandez said. "This is a marginalization for just one meeting, and Paraguay continues to have the pro-tem presidency of the Union of South American Nations," another regional group, known as Unasur.
But Lugo has said he intends to hand over Unasur's rotating presidency to Peru this week, months before it is scheduled to change hands in November.
Congress booted Lugo out of office in fast-track proceedings last week triggered by a clash between police and landless protesters in which 17 people died. The Senate found him guilty of poor performance of his duties, a clause in the constitution that leaves wide room for congressional interpretation. Franco was tapped to serve out the remainder of Lugo's term, until August 2013.
After saying last week that he would honor the outcome, Lugo is back on the offensive.
"I accepted my removal only to avoid greater evils for the country and avoid violence against protesters in the plaza" in front of Congress, Lugo said.
So far, local support of Lugo has been restrained. A few thousand people have demonstrated outside Congress last week and over the weekend, many in the capital turned out for a long-running protest where people took turns denouncing the ouster into an open microphone.
The most strenuous reaction has come from Paraguay's neighbors, many of whom also have long histories of unstable democracy.
Mercosur presidents have said they will consider the political crisis this week and mull whether to take further action. Several regional governments including Brazil and Chile said they will take no action that would hurt the people of Paraguay, suggesting that economic measures against the impoverished, landlocked South American nation may not be on the table.
But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Lugo ally, announced the suspension of diesel shipments to Paraguay in light of what he too called a "coup."
Franco met Monday with Paraguayan petroleum providers to evaluate the impact of the loss, and was told that Venezuela provides 130,000 cubic meters of fuel annually, out of total consumption of 300,000 cubic meters.
"We told the president that the Venezuelan decision will not affect our market because it only provides less than 30 percent of consumption," said fuel importer Juan Jose Zapag.
Zapag said Venezuela does not actually ship the diesel to Paraguay, but instead finances a Paraguay company to purchase the fuel. He added that if Venezuela cuts off those funds, by contract it would be unable to collect on a $260 million debt that Paraguayan oil company Petropar owes.