Brazil & Southern Cone - September 2016 (ISSN 1741-4431)

Venezuela denied Mercosur presidency, threatened with suspension

The four founding members of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) have agreed that they will not allow the bloc’s newest member, Venezuela, to assume Mercosur’s pro-tempore presidency until it meets all the requirements of full membership. This decision was taken as way out of Mercosur’s current institutional crisis which derives from the refusal by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to accept Venezuela’s assumption of the rotating six-month presidency in July as scheduled [RBS-16-06]. This stance has now been condoned by Uruguay, leaving Venezuela isolated within the bloc and at risk of being suspended from it.

The foreign ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay signed a joint declaration on 13 September, in which they announced that they had agreed (after Uruguay, the only country that continued to support Venezuela’s claim to the presidency, abstained from voting) that Venezuela shall not assume the presidency until its membership situation is resolved. Venezuela became a full Mercosur member after it signed an adhesion protocol in 2012, but since then the country has failed to adopt all the agreed norms contained in the protocol necessary for full membership by the stipulated August 2016 deadline. The founding members argued that as such Venezuela’s membership of the bloc has not been finalised, and so it could not assume the presidency. They said that instead the bloc would be led by its coordination committee until January 2017 when it is Argentina’s turn to assume the pro-tempore presidency.

But the declaration also gives Venezuela a “supplementary deadline” of 1 December by which to meet all its obligations under the 2012 adhesion protocol or face suspension. In this way, the four Mercosur founding members have increased the pressure on the Venezuelan government led by President Nicolás Maduro to engage with Venezuela’s political opposition and try to resolve the country’s deep political and economic crisis, which the likes of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina cited as the main reasons why they believed that Venezuela is unfit to lead the bloc.

Indeed, the declaration not only officially prevents Venezuela from assuming the Mercosur presidency but also opens the possibility that it could be forced out of the bloc should the Maduro government continue to undermine democracy in Venezuela. According to a Mercosur technical study, Venezuela needs to approve some 300 Mercosur regulations and adjust 30 international treaties in order to meet its membership requirements, which include the adoption of democratic provisions and human-rights promotion agreements. Even if the procedural arguments used against Venezuela are hiding political motives by the new right-of-centre governments in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to exclude the hard-line leftist Maduro government (as Maduro is likely to claim), they are nonetheless valid in themselves. Venezuela’s political crisis has resulted in the complete paralysis of its national legislature, and it is improbable that Venezuela can meet this new deadline, making its suspension and the potential loss of its membership likely.

  • Serra celebrates

Brazil’s foreign minister, José Serra, who has taken a hard line against Venezuela since his appointment in May, celebrated the signing of the joint statement by the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) founding member states on Venezuela’s claim to the bloc’s presidency, as providing a viable way out of Mercosur’s institutional crisis and allowing the bloc to move forward. “Finally we have solved the impasse created at Mercosur by the possibility that Venezuela could assume the bloc’s presidency…. Venezuela will not assume the presidency…[and] if by 2 December Venezuela does not fulfil the commitments it assumed when it first joined, it will be suspended”, Serra tweeted on 14 September.

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