Mercosur presidents, meeting in Argentina, called for a “quick conclusion” of Venezuela’s incorporation process to the block which remains stalled at the Paraguayan congress.
The point was specifically mentioned in the final release of the San Juan summit and follows an open appeal from Venezuelan Foreign Affairs minister Nicolas Maduro, who acted in representation of absent President Hugo Chavez and called on Paraguayan political and economic sectors “to open their hearts” to Venezuela.
“A quick conclusion of Venezuela’s Mercosur adhesion process as full member”, said the release “will redound in the strengthening of the block in such a way to keep propelling regional integration”. The text was signed by the presidents from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo minority government does not have the sufficient congressional support for a vote on Venezuela’s ratification besides the fact that President Chavez is not a popular character among Paraguay’s political establishment.
Mimicking Maduro, Paraguayan Senator Silvio Olevar “pleaded” to President Chavez to ‘open his heart’ to democratic principles. “I would plead to Mr. Maduro to convince Chavez to open his heart for example to the owners of media in Venezuela; to have the same open heart attitude towards his fellow citizens”.
But President Lugo is currently in the process of rebuilding a working alliance in Congress to ensure the passage of legislation, which should be concluded once the round of primaries in the country’s political parties is finalized confirming leaderships.
However Paraguay as one of the weaker economies of Mercosur is entitled to soft loans under the so called FOCEM, Structural Convergence Fund, and in the latest summit several of these projects, including the construction of a high power line (500MW) from the hydroelectric Itaipu complex to the capital Asuncion suffering from repeated blackouts, were approved.
But the approval of the project does not mean it will be immediately materialized. First the Brazilian congress has to vote the country’s share of FOCEM funds, 300 million US dollars, which would then enable works to begin. A similar position has been adopted by Argentina the other main contributor to FOCEM which benefits mainly Paraguay and Uruguay. This in practical terms could be sending a clear message to the Paraguayan coalition and Congress.
In other words no liberation of funds until a favourable vote in support of Venezuela’s incorporation to Mercosur has been issued. In Main Street this would be defined as blackmail, in politics chess it’s a way of getting things done.
Uruguay which also finally reached an agreement with Argentina over the frustrating and ongoing UPM/Botina pulp mill controversy, also managed to lift the Kirchner couple veto on several FOCEM financed projects, mainly a grid linkage with Brazil so that surplus power can flow either way according to demand peaks.