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Alberto Fernández assumes the pro tempore presidency of Latin America's Common Market Council (Mercosur) amidst differences between member states, with the European Union, and with a potential new member, Bolivia, returning to the group.
The president of Argentina, Alberto Fernandez, will assume this Wednesday the pro tempore presidency of the Common Market Council (Mercosur) during six months, a period in which he will promote the definitive incorporation of Bolivia and the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the birth of a regional block that has been marked by ideological swings of the governments of each of the member countries.
Fernandez is the only progressive president of a group that is completed by the conservatives Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil); Mario Abdo Benitez (Paraguay) and Luis Lacalle Pou (Uruguay), whom the Argentinean leader has approached in recent weeks in order to smooth out rough edges to avoid further conflict during the first half of 2021. The four heads of state are meeting virtually after the sessions held on Tuesday by their respective foreign ministers, also remotely.
In view of his interim leadership, Fernandez traveled to Uruguay last month to meet with Lacalle Pou and then held a video conference with Bolsonaro. It was the first time, after almost a year of government, that he spoke with his colleagues. In the case of the Uruguayan president, ideological differences have not marked the bilateral relationship so much. But with the Brazilian president, known worldwide for his outbursts, everything had been tense until that meeting.
Since last year, Bolsonaro campaigned against Fernández, and being already both in the governments of the two largest Mercosur countries, he continued with his personal disqualifications and political differences, especially in issues related to Bolivia, since while the Argentine government helped deposed President Evo Morales, the Brazilian president supported the dictatorship of Jeanine Áñez.
But diplomacy and bilateral interests prevailed and finally, both heads of state committed themselves to leave behind the differences and to establish an agenda of common interests.
El presidente Alberto Fernández participó esta mañana de la Cumbre Virtual de Jefes de Estado del Mercosur y de los Estados Asociados, durante la cual Argentina recibió la presidencia pro témpore del bloque regional que ejercerá por los próximos seis meses, https://t.co/TMB55glxjMpic.twitter.com/qGgiq3pZ5L
"President Alberto Fernandez participated this morning in the Virtual Summit of Heads of State of Mercosur and Associated States,
during which Argentina received the pro tempore presidency of the regional block that it will exercise for the next six months."
Fernandez arrives at the pro tempore presidency of Mercosur with the intention of concluding the delayed incorporation of Bolivia as a member with full rights, a process that began in 2013 and is still pending because it had to be ratified by the congresses of the four countries that make up the block. The only thing missing is the endorsement of the Brazilian parliament.
Added to this was the political instability that Bolivia suffered for a year after Morales suffered a coup d'état, which led to the self-proclamation of the ultra-right-winged Áñez as president. The institutional crisis and the pandemic prevented Bolivia's entry into Mercosur from being a priority issue.
Now, however, Fernandez will promote the conclusion of this process because it would guarantee her an ally in the bloc: leftist President Luis Arce, who won the elections last October 18. Thus, Argentina and Bolivia would represent progressivism as opposed to the conservatism of Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
The Argentine president has refused to comment on the case of Venezuela, a country that was already a member with full rights but was suspended in 2017 when Macri led an assault on the government of Nicolas Maduro. Despite criticism from his own party, Fernandez has refused to openly support the Venezuelan president, although he does not join the permanent condemnation of the rest of the right-wing governments in the region and continues to bet on a political solution to the crisis that the Caribbean country is suffering, but without any kind of foreign interventionism. For example, last week it refused to join the chorus of voices opposed to Chavism that, at the international level, denounced the results of the parliamentary elections.
In June of last year, former Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie wept in a highly publicized video announcing to Macri that the decades-old free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur was finally being sealed. Although the past Argentine government presented it as a successfully concluded process, the reality is that in Europe there were institutional guarantees to firm up the process that were never adopted.
One of the main reasons for the failure of the negotiation was Bolsonaro, who did not hesitate to make fun of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron. It was one of his many unfortunate reactions to the European leader's criticism of the Brazilian government's handling of the Amazon fires.
France then intensified its rejection of the agreement with Mercosur, mainly because of Brazil's resistance to abide by environmental commitments. With the same argument, the European Parliament warned in early October that it would not ratify the alliance with the South American bloc.
Thus, negotiations came again to a standstill, so Fernandez will try to revive it due to the benefits that the trade pact between both sides of the Atlantic could have in the region in full post-pandemic economic recovery, as recognized by the Argentine Foreign Minister, Felipe Solá.
It would be the best way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mercosur on March 26, the date on which the Argentine president will continue to exercise leadership of a trade bloc that covers a population of almost 300 million people and which every now and then is assumed to be dead, but which nevertheless overlaps and revives beyond the differences of the governments in office.