By FABIOLA SANCHEZ
President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he ordered his country’s military attaches to leave the Venezuelan Embassy in Paraguay, citing threats against diplomats amid growing tensions between the two governments.
Chavez said during a speech that he made the decision after death threats against some Venezuelan diplomats. He said the military attaches were sent to Argentina.
He didn’t give details about the threats but noted that diplomats in the embassy have recently faced accusations in Paraguay of “preparing a coup,” which Chavez denied.
Chavez made the announcement a day after Paraguay’s new government withdrew its ambassador from Caracas and declared Venezuela’s envoy no longer welcome in Asuncion. Venezuela’s ambassador had already left Paraguay a week earlier when he was called home for consultations by Chavez.
Venezuela has vocally opposed the congressional impeachment and ouster last month of President Fernando Lugo, an ally of Chavez. Lugo was swiftly replaced by Vice President Federico Franco, who is to serve out a presidential term that ends in August 2013.
Paraguay’s new government has 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.
The Paraguayan foreign ministry said Wednesday that its ambassador in Caracas would soon return home “due to serious evidence of intervention by Venezuelan officials in the internal affairs of Paraguay.”
In a speech to Venezuela’s National Assembly on Thursday, Chavez denied the accusations against Maduro. He said his foreign minister had attended a meeting with Paraguayan generals accompanied by other foreign ministers while participating in a diplomatic mission of the regional bloc Unasur.
Referring to Paraguay’s new government declaring Maduro unwelcome in the country, Chavez said, “I envy Nicolas.”
Paraguay’s defense minister presented a security camera video this week showing Maduro going into the meeting with military officers. Chavez said the video was taken out of context and called those who have taken power in Paraguay a “dictatorial” group.
Chavez reiterated his suspicion that the U.S. government had a hand in Lugo’s ouster, referring to a “decision of the Pentagon.” He didn’t present any evidence to support that theory.
All of Paraguay’s South American neighbors have distanced themselves from the new government following Lugo’s removal from office. Both the Mercosur trade group and the Unasur bloc suspended Paraguay until it holds a presidential election, now scheduled for April 2013.
Until recently, Venezuela’s efforts to become a full member of Mercosur had been held up by lawmakers in Paraguay. But last week, with Paraguay temporarily suspended from the Mercosur trade bloc, the leaders of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay seized the opportunity and welcomed Chavez’s government as a full member.