Venezuela's MERCOSUR Days are Numbered

As the trade block prepares to suspend Venezuela for failing to implement any of its accession obligations, the government doesn't even seem to care.

The Paraguayan flag is seen next to other members of the Mercosur during the XLIII Mercosur presidential summit in Mendoza, 1050 Km west of Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO / Juan Mabromata

Within a few days, Venezuela will lose full membership in MERCOSUR, the regional trade bloc.

Barring an unlikely 180-degree turn by either the four founding countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) or the Bolivarian Republic, MERCOSUR will strip the B.R. of V of any voting rights in the organization (it would still have a voice) over its refusal to adopt the group’s legal framework. And neither side is in a mood to back down.

The Foreign Ministers of Uruguay and Paraguay agreed that unless Venezuela changes its mind, the decision reached by the four other members back in September will go forward.

After the election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina and the long impeachment process in Brazil, Mercosur became a deeply lonely place for the Bolivarian republic. 

The response from Venezuelan FM Delcy Rodriguez was clear: “We’re neither leaving nor getting kicked out of MERCOSUR. Nicolas Maduro himself used the same tone days earlier: “If we get kicked out the door, we’re going back in through the window”. The government is already calling on its supporters to protest in front of the four countries’ embassies in Caracas this week.

The impasse in MERCOSUR is not new: since it was admitted to the bloc back in 2012, Venezuela has been a divisive presence in the organization. The country has refused to accept any responsibilities or adapt its institutional framework in anyway while expecting to reap all the benefits.

At the same time, Caracas has tried to shift the group’s trade-centered  raison d’etre into a more political one. Venezuela got away with it in part thanks to the loyalty of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Dilma Rousseff, but after the election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina and the long impeachment process in Brazil, Mercosur became a deeply lonely place for the Bolivarian republic. 

Uruguay is still supportive of having Venezuela in MERCOSUR for ideological and economic reasons, but recent events forced President Tabaré Vásquez to play one hell of a balancing act.

And there’s Paraguay…

Asunción was always the one blocking Venezuela from joining MERCOSUR, even when the late comandante eterno had a ally in then President Fernando Lugo. But the Paraguayan congress refused to allow Venezuela in the bloc as long as Hugo Chavez was in power.

Only after the impeachment of Lugo in 2012 and the immediate suspension of Paraguay from the group, did Venezuela get in through the backdoor. The current Paraguayan President, Horacio Cartes, decided to bury the hatchet the following year and the Congress finally approved Venezuela’s full membership.

But the tense detente between the two countries came to an end this year, as Paraguay rejected handing Mercosur’s annual rotating presidency to Caracas. Venezuela announced it was taking the MERCOSUR’s Presidencia Pro Tempore on July 1st, but the other countries postponed the matter to August (at Brazil’s request). After a second postponement finally in mid-September all four countries decided to not allow Venezuela to take over.

As the clock ticks down toward the deadline, it seems like Venezuela’s suspension is a done deal and the central government doesn’t even care.

Instead, an ultimatum was issued. Venezuela should fully implement MERCOSUR’s rules, or else.

Interestingly enough, there was another option on the table: the group’s very own Democratic Charter (better known as the Ushuaia Protocol). Last year, Mauricio Macri proposed to invoke it to pressure Venezuela but the idea went cold after taking office (I guess his FM Susana Malcorra and her ambitious were the reason). The Paraguayan Congress asked in June for the same thing, but there’s a lack of overall consensus over that alternative.

As the clock ticked down to the deadline, Delcy Rodríguez turned in her homework last night, way late, via Twitter:

Will this be enough? I know if I was negotiating with the government, I’d want to see some signs that the things agreed are actually being implemented. One way or another, the Bolivarian Republic insists that things are just fine…