The foreign ministers of the South American Mercosur trading bloc decided on December 6 to maintain the treaty organization's suspension of Paraguay. Paraguay was suspended from the organization earlier this year following the impeachment and removal of former President Fernando Lugo. Member countries of Mercosur criticized the move as undemocratic and have since undertaken actions to restrict landlocked Paraguay's access to the Atlantic Ocean and foreign markets. According to Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, "It was decided to continue examining the situation" but "without altering" the suspension agreed last June, after the ouster of then- President Lugo, reports the EFE news agency.
The decision was made during the first part of a meeting of the Common Market Council (CMC) of Mercosur, in which, with Patriota, along with Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman of Argentina and Foreign Minister Luis Almagro of Uruguay.
Vice President and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro did not attend the meeting, which was the first summit of Mercosur since Venezuela was admitted as a full member. In his place was Veronica Guerrero, Venezuela's Deputy Foreign Minister for Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to Patriota, while maintaining Paraguay's suspension, the Mercosur bloc also confirmed an interest in sending observers to Paraguay for the the general elections to be held in mid-April 2013. Patriota said that Mercosur is thus acting "hand in hand" with the other South American bloc, UNASUR, which has also suspended Paraguay's membership. UNASUR also intends to send electoral observers, even while Paraguayan President Federico Franco has said he will not accept UNASUR representatives.
Despite this refusal, Patriota said he was confident that both the Unasur and Mercosur will "seek a formula with the electoral authorities" in Paraguay to allow electoral observers from their organizations. On December 6, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez led a delegation from the Organization of American States to Paraguay to begin the groundwork for OAS electoral observers in the upcoming election.
Like Unasur, Mercosur suspended Paraguay on the grounds that there was a "breakdown" of democracy in the dismissal of former President Lugo by impeachment in the Senate and his replacement by the erstwhile Vice-President Franco, as stipulated by the Paraguayan Constitution.
On the day of the suspension of Paraguay, the other three Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay) decided to admit Venezuela to the club. That move had long been opposed by Paraguay. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is the leader of governments in the region that are increasingly vocal in their opposition to U.S. foreign policy. Venezuela, in particular, has fostered close relations with Russia and Iran, while making large arms purchases and other deals with both.
Patriota said that the process of integrating Venezuela into Mercosur is now at a "very fast" pace. Also addressed were related to commerce and the creation of a network of researchers in Mercosur.
On December 7, the leaders of the various Mercosur countries will come together at a summit meeting in Brasilia. However, Venezuela's president will not be in attendance since he is currently in Cuba receiving cancer treatments for which he had surgery on three occasions in 2012. Uruguay's leftist President Jose Mujica will attend, while the Mercosur members will also greet Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. The latter two countries have expressed interest in joining Mercosur. Representing Chavez will be Vice-President/Foreign Minister Maduro.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.