Venezuela Sets Deadline for Mercosur Entry

In reaction to the delays in the admission of Venezuela to Mercosur, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said that if his country is not admitted in the next three months, he would withdraw Venezuela’s effort to become a full member.

Caracas, July 4, 2007 (— In reaction to the delays in the admission of Venezuela to Mercosur, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said that if his country is not admitted in the next three months, he would withdraw Venezuela’s effort to become a full member.

The presidents of the countries that belong to the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, already admitted Venezuela to Mercosur exactly a year ago. However, the final admission of Venezuela depends on Venezuela adapting its tariffs and on the approval by the member countries’ legislatures. So far the Congresses of Brazil and of Paraguay have not passed the approval, while those of Argentina and Uruguay have.

Last week, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said that Venezuela’s President Chavez needs to issue an apology to the Brazilian Senate for having accused it of being “parrots” for repeating mandates from the United States.

Chavez had made the comment because the Brazilian Senate had passed a resolution condemning the broadcast license non-renewal of the TV station RCTV last May. For Chavez this license non-renewal was an administrative matter and any foreign interference on it is a violation of Venezuelan sovereignty.

Chavez failed to attend the Mercosur summit, held in Asunción, Paraguay last week, because it took place at the same time as his tour of Russia, Belorussia, and Iran.

During his visit to Iran this past weekend, Chavez said that Venezuela is “not desperate to enter an old Mercosur that does not want to change,” suggesting that Venezuela might simply retract its effort to become a full member of the trade block. Chavez has said on several prior occasions that Mercosur should become more than a free trade block, that it should contribute to a political integration of the member countries and not just limit itself to economic integration.

The reason, according to Chavez, why the legislatures of Brazil and of Uruguay have not approved Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur is because these are controlled by the countries’ right wing parties. “If we cannot enter into Mercosur because the Brazilian right is stronger, then we will withdraw,” said Chavez last Saturday from Iran.

More important than entering into Mercosur, for Venezuela, is the strengthening of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America), said Chavez. ALBA is a Venezuela’s effort to integrate Latin America on the basis of solidarity and mutual support instead of free trade. So far, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua have joined ALBA.

Yesterday, shortly after his return from his travels, Chavez gave a presentation on national television about his trip, in which he stated that Venezuela would wait until the end of September for admission to Mercosur, but no more. “If in a period of three months Venezuela’s admission to Mercosur is not complete, we will have to, unfortunately, withdraw ourselves from this international institution.” “Our brother countries cannot submit us to a wait without reason,” said Chavez.

Brazil’s Amorim responded to Chavez on Monday by stating that he hoped Venezuela would not withdraw its membership and that he hoped that “the conditions are completed so that the process [of Venezuela’s membership] would be concluded rapidly.”

Venezuela’s problems with Mercosur might be mutual implied Chavez when he said, “Until now there does not seem to be a true will to make changes in the structure of Mercosur and so Venezuela does not dismiss definitively abandoning one model of integration, which is not [an integration].”

He explained that the Brazilian and Paraguayan right’s efforts to block Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur is “nothing new” and has been going on “ever since 1999.” Chavez also implied that the real reason the two legislatures were holding up Venezuela’s membership was because Venezuela had not “deregulated its economy.”

Roberto Conde of Uruguay, who is the president of the Mercosur Parliament, said yesterday that parliamentarians from all Mercosur countries, including Venezuela, would meet in two weeks to discuss the impasse in Venezuela’s membership. One must “get rid of the ideological charge from the debate,” said Conde.

In contrast, the opposition Uruguayan legislator Pablo Iturralde said, in response to Chavez’s deadline, that “the Brazilian Congress has its own rhythms and does not respond to outside commands.”

The Chair of Brazil’s parliamentary commission on Mercosur, Sergio Zambiasi, said in an interview with the AP that he hopes Venezuela does not withdraw its membership in Mercosur. “I hope that Venezuela reflects and understands that crises are natural and are there to be overcome… and that the government [of President Lula da Silva] has the Congress’s support to approve peacefully approve the membership [of Venezuela] to Mercosur,” said Zambiasi.

Brazil’s Minister of Institutional Relations, Walfrido dos Mares Guia , said today that his country rejects Chavez’s deadline, “as much as [the two countries] might be friends.”

Paraguay ’s President Nicanor Duarte, submitted to the legislature of his country the formal request to approve of Venezuela’s Mercosur membership. Various members of Duarte’s party, though, expressed reservations about Chavez’s effort to pressure the process. “Paraguay is a free country and does not accept deadline from anyone,” said Vice-President Luis Castiglioni .