Even when Uruguayan president Jose Mujica assumed full responsibility for the controversial support suspending Paraguay and embracing Venezuela during the Mercosur summit, other details of events have emerged with Uruguayan ambassador Guillermo Pomi in Argentina, allegedly playing a crucial role.
The controversy was triggered when Foreign minister Luis Almagro said that the incorporation of Venezuela was “not definitive” since the legal aspects had to be considered and that was the reason for the July 31 Mercosur meeting in Rio do Janeiro.
“If we had all agreed, Venezuela would have been in already”, said Almagro who added further controversy when he stated that it was presidents Dilma Rousseff and Cristina Fernandez who had pushed for the acceptance against the will of Uruguay.
His statements were strongly rejected by Argentina and Brazil, and further questioned when they insisted that it was President Mujica that put the issue of Venezuela on the table, when the three presidents met behind closed doors with no ministers or advisors.
What has emerged now is that apparently Ambassador Pomi was a determining factor in convincing President Mujica. The Uruguayan president and Almagro arrived at the summit with the idea of impeding economic sanctions on Paraguay and delaying the incorporation of Venezuela so as not to take advantage of the Paraguayan situation and what was already a fact, Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur.
Pomi’s relations with Foreign Minister Luis Almagro are not the best; the ambassador was personally chosen by Mujica and has been instrumental in de-freezing the strained relations of Uruguay with the Kirchner administration.
Further more Pomi, an accountant with no diplomatic background is identified in the Uruguayan Foreign ministry as a “K” man for his identification with the Argentine government, and as such also has direct line with President Mujica, many times ignoring his immediate superior Almagro.
Allegedly and according to Uruguayan sources Pomi convinced Mujica not to veto the incorporation of Venezuela and as a result when the Mendoza declaration was read aloud Almagro abandoned the summit’s meeting hall while Mujica sat on a second row and left Ambassador Pomi in his place.
“Pomi had Mujica’s ear during the whole summit” and finally convinced him to follow Argentina and Brazil in supporting Venezuela, according to Uruguayan diplomatic sources.
Almagro was asked if his walking out and the change of seats between Mujica and Pomi should be interpreted as a strong political signal, the Foreign minister said “no, we were celebrating”.
He added “let’s be clear about all this: I firmly support Venezuela’s incorporation to Mercosur, forget about governments’ colours and all the nonsense about ideological identification; welcome Venezuela, but not this way or in these circumstances”.
The clash of influences between the ambassador and the minister is so serious that “it would come as no surprise if sometime in a near future Pomi finally replaces Almagro as Foreign minister”.
Mujica in the council of minister on Monday assumed full responsibility for the decisions and his spokesperson Diego Canepa said that “he proceeded according to the best national interests to comply with something that had already been decided by Uruguay”. In effect the Uruguayan parliament approved Venezuela’s incorporation request a few months after the formal presentation in 2006.
Canepa added that Almagro had the full support from President Mujica and he will be backed by all the ruling coalition when he is summoned to Parliament to explain what happened at the Mendoza Mercosur summit.
However the change of position was not limited to Uruguay. The day before the arrival of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, at the previous meetings her Foreign minister Antonio Patriota also favoured not addressing the Venezuelan incorporation given the Paraguayan situation and the fact that the country’s congress was the only one to have consistently blocked the request.
“It was Dilma who asked us out of the room and out comes the statement on Venezuela with two additional points: increase Mercosur integration inviting the Pacific arch countries to join and delaying the final resolution to July 31 in Rio do Janeiro”, said Almagro.
However and despite his opposition to the incorporation procedure Almagro said that “the President in the negotiations did the right thing, because foreign policy is also real-politic: Venezuela gives Mercosur a new political, economic, energy and trade dimension: we must admit they are a regional power and we have to accept it. Mercosur with abundant oil and gas has a different specific weight”.
In reality Uruguay at the last Mercosur summit, December 2011, had already promoted an initiative that would have incorporated Venezuela even without the vote from the Paraguayan Congress. The attempt was frustrated when the Paraguayan congress threatened President Fernando Lugo with impeachment if he had sponsored such an initiative.