Representatives of the South American sub-regional trading bloc Mercosur met in Montevideo, Uruguay, Thursday to address a controversy over Venezuela assuming the body’s rotating presidency without consensus among the members due to opposition from right-wing governed Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.
Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga explained in a press conference in Asuncion Wednesday that the meeting would look at how to move forward for the six-month term after three countries refused to recognize Venezuela’s presidency of the block. Venezuela, which was not represented at the meeting, insists it is the legitimate president of Mercosur.
“We could revise Venezuela’s membership protocol to correct the situation,” argued Loizaga, suggesting that the presidency skip over Venezuela and proceed in its alphabetical rotation to Argentina. Paraguay, which rejected Venezuela’s leadership along with Brazil and Argentina, has been the sole voice in the region advocating the application of the Organization of American States’ democratic charter against the fellow Mercosur member.
Uruguay, which previously held the pro tempore leadership, passed the presidency to Venezuela last Friday, ahead of the start of the term on Aug. 1. Venezuela formally declared it had taken over the role, but Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil rejected the announcement, arguing that it was "self-proclaimed."
But Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has firmly defended the country’s role. “We are the president of Mercosur and we are going to exercise it fully,” he said in Caracas Wednesday.
Uruguay has attempted to maintain order amid the rising tension, arguing in a statement that the country “strictly followed the norms to transfer the rotating presidency of Mercosur, which belongs to Venezuela.”
The Coordinator of Trade Unions of the Southern Cone — representing millions of workers through its member unions in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay — also came to Venezuela’s defense on Thursday, criticizing “excessive haste to exclude Venezuela” based on “extreme ideology” that has prevented normal application of Mercosur protocol.
The rift in Mercosur reflects the broader shift in political priorities and alliances in the region amid a resurgence of the right-wing after the socialist Pink Tide swept South America and brought regional integration to the top of the political and economic agenda.
President Mauricio Macri, elected last year, vowed to pivot the country toward the United States and Europe while seeking to suspend Venezuela from Mercosur. Macri backtracked on the anti-Venezuela campaign given lack of regional support for the plan.
During a visit in Argentina Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declined to comment on the Mercosur debacle, deferring to his Argentine counterpart to address the question. Kerry did, however, reiterate that the United States has serious concerns about Venezuela.
Brazil’s unelected government is also being vocal on the matter with a stark shift in political positions compared to suspended President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet despite being an “interim” government.
Maduro has slammed Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil as the “triple alliance of torturers of South America” on Wednesday for rejecting Venezuela’s presidency.
Mercosur is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela as full members as well as five associate members, which are Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Suriname.