Paraguay Hardens U.S. Military Stance

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 3, 2006; 10:27 PM

ASUNCION, Paraguay -- Paraguay's decision to refuse diplomatic immunity for U.S. troops and not to renew a military cooperation pact sparked debate Tuesday, with analysts calling the developments a blow to U.S. attempts to improve regional ties.

Foreign Minster Ruben Ramirez said Monday that Paraguay and Washington would not renew a defense-cooperation agreement for 2007 over the South American country's refusal to grant U.S. troops inside Paraguay immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

The Bush administration has stood tough against the ICC since its creation in 2002 out of concern that Americans overseas, including military personnel, diplomats and ordinary citizens, could be subject to politically motivated prosecutions.

Last May, Paraguay approved the entry of some 400 U.S. troops for joint military exercises, such as programs on fighting urban terrorists, public security and humanitarian assistance.

Ramirez said the government determined that under international treaty law, exceptions to immunity can only be made in cases of foreign diplomats and administrative personnel.

He said U.S. military exercises scheduled through Dec. 1 would continue.

Washington had no immediate response to Paraguay's announcement.

Radio journalists debated on Tuesday whether Duarte's government should have gone along with the U.S. requests. Supporters cited the advantages of a good military relationship with the U.S., while others argued the U.S. hadn't helped Paraguay in the way European and Asian nations had, such as with road, hospital, school and infrastructure projects.

Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, said the move shows the U.S. is losing influence in the region.

"My guess is there was a lot of pressure on the Paraguayans to fall more in line with Brazil and other Mercosur countries in terms of not having a special military relationship with the United States," he said. "I do think it's a further setback for the U.S. in terms of its influence and its objectives in the region.

The other members of the Mercosur trade bloc _ Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela _ have so far refused to grant immunity to U.S. troops. All four nations have in recent years elected leftist governments critical of U.S. policy.

The ICC, a United Nations creation, was set up in an attempt to ensure that perpetrators of genocide or crimes against humanity are brought to justice.

© 2006 The Associated Press