Mérida, 12th July 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela's presidency of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) started today, as leaders of the trade bloc stated they will withdraw ambassadors from a number of European nations. The bloc also issued a joint statement condemning alleged US mass surveillance of Latin American nations.
“This historic event is a reality that has materialised thanks to the work of the Supreme Commander of the Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chavez, to achieve Latino-Carribean integration,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stated at today's summit in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Venezuela's six month term holding the rotating position began during today's meeting.
“We've taken numerous actions in order to compel public explanations and apologies from the European nations that assaulted our brother, [Bolivian president] Evo Morales,” Maduro stated.
Morales' plane made an emergency landing in Austria last week, after allegedly being denied access to the airspace of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal while returning from Russia.
US ambassador to Austria William Eacho had erroneously informed European governments that US whistleblower Edward Snowden was aboard the flight.
In a joint statement, Mercosur described the incident as a “blatant violation of international law”.
“The gravity of the incident - indicative of a neocolonial mindset - constitutes an unfriendly and hostile act, which violates human rights and impedes freedom of travel, as well as the treatment and immunity appropriate to a head of state,” the statement read.
“We repudiate any action aimed at undermining the authority of countries to grant and fully implement the right of asylum,” it stated.
Mercosur further called for “solidarity with the governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which have offered to grant asylum to Mr. Edward Snowden.”
The Mercosur response comes on the heels of a declaration from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which called for an explanation from European governments over the incident when it met last week.
However, yesterday Uruguay's foreign minister Luis Almagro stated that he and his counterparts from other Mercosur nations were unsatisfied with responses from the governments involved.
“Up until now, we continue to consider insufficient the explanations or apologies European countries have given,” Almagro stated after meeting with foreign ministers from other Mercosur countries.
“This global espionage case has shaken the conscience of the people of the United States and has upset the world,” Maduro told the summit.
The bloc also responded to new allegations of US mass surveillance of Latin American nations.
According to Brazil's O Globo newspaper, documents leaked by Snowden indicate that the US National Security Agency (NSA) monitored internet traffic on the continent, specifically targeting Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil. The O Globo report also states that the US may have also collected information on “commercial secrets”.
“Any act of espionage that violates human rights, above all the basic right to privacy, and undermines the sovereignty of nations, deserves to be condemned by any country that calls itself democratic,” Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff said.
In the statement, Mercosur announced that member countries “emphatically reject the interception of telecommunications and espionage activities in our countries.”
According to Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, US treatment of Latin America constitutes a “new form of colonialism”.
Prior to the meeting, Fernandez stated she would pursue a “strong statement of condemnation” from Mercosur, while an aide to Rousseff, Gilberto Carvalho stated that a “very hard” response is needed from the bloc.
Maduro's address to the summit reiterated previous statements that during Venezuela's presidency, he hopes to expand the bloc.
“We are strongly committed to further strengthening Mercosur, to expanding its social, economic, political and diplomatic capacity,” Maduro stated today.
In the lead-up to the summit, Maduro stated that during Venezuela's term, he hopes to “strengthen and consolidate” the bloc, along with integration with other regional trade organisations.
“We must integrate Mercosur with Alba (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), with Petrocaribe and Caricom (Caribbean Community). Those are the steps that to give and that will promote from the presidency,” Maduro recently said.
In May, the Venezuelan government also pushed for integration between the Petrocaribe oil alliance and ALBA, during this year's Petrocaribe summit in Caracas.
Upon arriving in Montevideo, Maduro stated that he intends to “broaden the horizons of Mercosur in the Caribbean”.
The lifting of Paraguay's suspension from the block was also on the agenda. Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur last June, when former President Fernando Lugo was impeached by the country's congress and removed from office.
However, at today's summit, the bloc agreed to lift the suspension on 15 August, when president-elect Horacio Cartes is inaugurated.
In another joint statement, member states agreed that Paraguay could “resume its right to participate fully in Mercosur organs and deliberations.”
The statement also says that Mercosur welcomed the “the holding of general elections in the Republic of Paraguay on 21 April.”
The offer had been previously announced on Thursday by Almagro.
“We have followed the election process in Paraguay, which will permit on August 15, with the inauguration of president Cartes, the lifting of the suspension,” Almagro stated after Thursday's meeting of foreign ministers.
“Paraguay has the support of all Mercosur members,” he added.
Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elias Jaua has also backed Paraguay's re-entry prior to the summit.
“We will do everything possible to facilitate Paraguay's entry into Mercosur again,” he told Venezuelan media earlier this week.
However, the Paraguayan government has previously indicated that it will not participate in Mercosur while Venezuela holds presidency. Yesterday, the country's foreign minister Jose Felix Fernandez reiterated criticism of Venezuela's role in Mercosur.
Paraguay is not the only country to be offered membership. Yesterday, Guyana and Suriname signed agreements with Mercosur to become associate members of the trade bloc.
Maduro has also spoken out in support for Ecuador's entry into Mercosur, and full membership for Bolivia.
While the summit took place, Venezuelan products were on display at the Venezuelan Export Fair, also held in Montevideo. Over the four-day fair, 39 Venezuelan companies displayed over 200 products to be exported to Mercosur countries, ranging from petroleum products to cosmetics and rum.
Following the Mercosur meeting today, Maduro, Mujica and Morales visited the fair.
Venezuelan products on display at the export fair. A full gallery can be seen at CDO (CDO/@AleFleming)