Uruguayan president José Mujica said that members of Mercosur must readjust the block's legal framework ‘to make it work’ so that differences among its partners can be resolved in an institutional framework. He insisted on a review and amendment of mechanisms with greater flexibility and more adapted to current circumstances.
“We have this system properly established but it doesn’t solve differences that arise between countries”, Mujica said to local press. He added we should face reality, be sincere and accept that these mechanisms don’t actually work, and start building new ones that fit our needs”.
There is a serious internal problem, we need to review it, decide what works, what doesn't; we need more flexible instruments which we can effectively apply and are more responsive to current times, insisted Mujica who has faced continued disputes with Argentina over trade, ports and pulp mills, among other issues.
What we can't do is to continue with this sort of institutional lie, with the lyrics one way and the music the other way.
Last November, Uruguay filed a complaint at Mercosur against Buenos Aires that had prohibited Argentine export cargo transfers to Uruguayan ports. The Argentine measure was in reprisal for Mujica allowing a production increase at the UPM/Botnia pulp mill, a conflict which in the past reached the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
But Uruguay's November complaint has yet to be replied. Many times direct presidential diplomacy tends to substitute what is not working and should be working, which is the agreed institutional diplomacy, complained the Uruguayan president.
Blocking Argentine exports from operating through Montevideo is costing Uruguay a significant loss of port activity and income, plus endangers major infrastructure projects such as a re-gasification plant in Montevideo and a deep water port along the Atlantic coast close to Brazil, which have been estimated with a percentage of Argentine demand to be satisfied.
Furthermore Uruguayan exports to the Argentine market have been delayed by Customs at Buenos Aires, which is having an impact on Uruguay manufacturers. Likewise strict foreign money controls in Argentina, although not specifically geared against Uruguay, are also having an impact on the current summer season when over 70% of arriving tourists are from Argentina.
A few days ago Mujica publicly admitted that relations with Argentina are 'blocked but reiterated his willingness to have a dialogue with his peer Argentine president Cristina Fernandez whenever possible. This could happen at the next Celac summit in Havana, 28 January or three days later in Caracas, Venezuela at the Mercosur summit.
Whether Mujica's wishes of meeting Cristina Fernández to address bilateral issues really happen, still has to be seen. Celac in Havana will bring together too many leaders in a short time, and it is mainly a show for Raúl Castro and his tepid reforms wanting somehow to return to the fold.
In Caracas, president Nicolas Maduro will be needing some kind of explicit support from his Mercosur partners to help him overcome the current economic and security meltdowns Venezuelans are facing.
Besides Mercosur problems seem to be growing while its international shine and influence is declining: the summit was twice postponed in December and January and this is the third attempt. Besides it is not clear if effectively Mercosur has agreed o a common tariffs proposal to exchange with the European Union hoping for a major trade agreement.
And last but not least, many critics of Mujica, which are not few, are recalling that eighteen months ago when the controversial suspension of Paraguay from Mercosur and the incorporation of Venezuela as full member of the group (pending because the Paraguayan Senate would not vote it), the Uruguayan president justified the decisions arguing that on occasions politics is more important and must prevail over institutional issues.
In June 2012 Mercosur suspended Paraguay for having removed then president Fernando Lugo from office, for incompetence and according to the country's constitutional procedure. Mercosur described it as a congressional coup, and on taking advantage of Paraguay's absence, and contrary to the group's charter agreed to have Venezuela incorporated as a full member.