The Empty Bottle

At first glance, the current diplomatic scuffle regarding Venezuela’s fight to take over the presidency of Mercosur that, ahem, they are perfectly entitled to might seem like drunks fighting over an empty bottle. But there's more at stake in this fight than meets the eye.

Mercosur, the trade agreement slash economic union slash dysfunctional family that Venezuela belongs to, is going through some unlikely drama as of late.

The body’s presidency -which supposedly rotates among its members by alphabetical order every six months- should go to Venezuela now. In fact, the Wikipedia page erroneously says Venezuela already got it. But Mercosur’s main players want none of this, and they are fighting to prevent Venezuela from taking over.

Curiously, the fight over a bureaucratic appointment in a body that ceased to be relevant a while ago has become la propia telenovela.

At first glance, the story seems unimportant. It has a strong whiff of two drunks fighting over an empty liquor bottle. After all, everyone knows the Alliance of the Pacific is the in kid when it comes to regional trade agreements – so much so that countries in the Atlantic are lining up to join it, minimizing the fact that the bloc’s name actually puts a geographical precondition on the matter.

Mercosur matters little these days, so why are countries fighting about it? Well, scratch beneath the surface and the unvarnished truth of Venezuela’s deep diplomatic isolation in the region emerges.

The main concern in Mercosur is that Maduro, as the head of of the group for the next six months, will convene a summit of heads of state to show he is not isolated. This would force the Presidents to take a picture with him, and perhaps <ugh> travel to Caracas for a summit. Guácala.

More importantly, Maduro at the helm could significantly affect the current negotiations between the block and the European Union -negotiations of which Venezuela isn’t even a part, but can influence through its leadership in the bloc.

According to El País, the only country openly supporting Venezuela is Uruguay. Paraguay, long a foe of Maduro’s, is vehemently opposed to being led by him. Brazil and Argentina, the main players in Mercosur, are also opposed, albeit in a more tempered way.

This position marks a shift in the Argentine strategy. When we last wrote about this, Argentina was trying to stave off any criticism of Venezuela to gain our country’s support for the candidacy of Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra for the UN’s top job. But in spite of a well-orchestrated campaign -note, for example, this fawning piece in Foreign Policy on Malcorra’s record- it seems this position has fizzled out.

Not only has Argentine President Mauricio Macri harshly criticized the Venezuelan government in recent days, but Malcorra now has a tough contender in the region in Costa Rican Christiana Figueres -the UN’s former point person for climate change, and a darling of the international press.

As for Brazil, the story intertwines with the country’s ongoing political saga. Interim Foreign Minister José Serra has been accused by the Venezuelan Foreign Minister of being the top diplomat of a dictatorship. Serra, meanwhile, understands that any radical move regarding Mercosur by an interim government will be seen as flimsy, so he wants the decision postponed until the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff is solved.

Currently, sources say that Rousseff’s impeachment is very likely to pass, thereby closing the door on her chances of returning to Brazil’s Presidency. This would empower Serra, and would embolden Brazil’s seemingly anti-Maduro position.

As this drama unfolds, we should be clear on one thing: Venezuela is perfectly entitled to hold the stewardship of Mercosur. Rules are rules, and it’s Maduro’s turn. If they are so concerned with Venezuela leading, they should have suspended her a while ago.

But the mere fact that Venezuela has to put up a fight to exercise her rights goes to show how untouchable we have become. Say what you might about Delcy Rodríguez, but her job…is downright impossible.

Hugo Chávez used to love to go to summits. He was the gem of the press, his comrades would laugh at his jokes, and everyone had a ball.

But Maduro? He’s become “him”…as in, “oh, they invited him…?” As Venezuela sinks deeper into despair, the region’s contempt towards the regime seems to have finally boiled over.