Paraguay 16/01/11

Wanted Bolivian Mario Cossío prays for asylum in Paraguay amid escalating tensions between the two nations

Headlines this week were dominated by the mutual pointing of fingers between Paraguay and Bolivia over the case of Mario Cossío, suspended governor of Tarija (2006-2010) in southern Bolivia.

Wanted for 27 charges, among them corruption, dereliction of duty and allocation  of public funds (US$55m), Cossío fled the country illegally on 21 December 2010, in the hope of finding a safe haven in Paraguay.

After submitting his request for asylum to the Paraguayan branch of the Comisión Nacional de Regufiados (National Refugee Council – CONARE), the Bolivian was granted a 90-day permit, which he has spent mostly in Asunción.

On Friday, Cossío’s application was finally put on the table of CONARE, and the council will have three months to deliberate as to whether or not he is to be granted the status of political refugee. As a result, his provisional refugee status was extended until April, during which time the legitimacy of the charges brought against him in Bolivia and his personal reasons for fleeing the country will be analyzed.

Cossío maintains his innocence, claiming his life is under threat in Bolivia and that he is the victim of political persecution. ‘This is a putschist plan by Morales in complicity with prosecutors and judges controlled by a government that wants to demolish everything that opposes it in order to have total power’, said Cossío.

The affair quickly reached new heights, as the governments of Bolivia and Paraguay gnashed their teeth at one another over the media.

The decision by CONARE to consider Cossío’s plea for asylum was first contested by Evo Morales’ administration, which accused Paraguay of meddling in the internal affairs of Bolivia by harbouring a fugitive of justice. ‘This is a case of corruption. Consequently, respecting the sovereignty of any government, of any nation, there cannot be governments, nations or international organizations that protect the corrupt’, said Morales recently.

In turn, Paraguay’s number two, Federico Franco responded early this week to similar pressure from his Bolivian counterpart, Vice-president António Garcia Linera, by pointing the finger back at the neighbouring country for barging into what is now an affair under the jurisdiction of CONARE.

Cossío’s pleas have been met with continuous support from Paraguay’s political sector. On Monday, the statesman was welcomed as an ‘illustrious guest’ by governor Carlos Amarilla, who pledged his support and declared that there is no doubt that Cossío has been targeted by the Bolivian government for purely political reasons.

The following day, the Consejo de Gobernadores de Paraguay (Paraguay’s Governor Council) officially requested that President Fernando Lugo grant the Bolivian political asylum.

CONARE will have until the end of March to announce its decision, but hints of a positive outcome for Cossío have certainly been voiced, as President Fernando Lugo himself commented on his situation by declaring that Paraguay has a long tradition of welcoming refugees.

Despite this week’s rising tensions between Paraguay and Bolivia, both Fernando Lugo and Evo Morales have guaranteed that Cossío’s case will not hinder relations between the two neighbouring countries.