Paraguay's decision to refuse diplomatic immunity to U.S. troops in the country sparked debate Tuesday, as political analysts called it a blow to U.S. attempts to foster stronger ties with friendly Latin American nations.
Foreign Minster Ruben Ramirez said Monday that Paraguay would not grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution.
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 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.
All the other nations in the Mercosur trade have so far refused to grant immunity to U.S. troops. Mercosur nations are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, and many of these nations have in recent years elected leftist governments critical of U.S. policy.