Venezuela's entry in Mercosur faces Paraguayan hurdle

Dec. 18, 2009 at 2:04 PM
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ASUNCION, Paraguay, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Venezuela's incorporation in Mercosur, considered a certainty after Brazilian ratification, now faces a new hurdle in Paraguay, which says the man and not the country is the problem.

Paraguay reiterated this week it would oppose Venezuela's entry so long as Hugo Chavez continued interfering in Paraguay's internal affairs. The Paraguayan comment rules out an early end to the arguments that began soon after Venezuela applied to join the trade pact in 2006. Mercosur was founded in 1991 and currently includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

After weeks of argumentative debate and outright condemnation of Chavez's suppression of independent media and dissent in Venezuela, the Brazilian Senate finally voted Tuesday to agree to Caracas coming into the fold.

From the outset Venezuela had trouble getting accepted by the Brazilian Senate, mostly because of international controversies over the fiery rhetoric of Chavez and his accusations against pro-Western members of the Brazilian Senate.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva threw his support behind Venezuela's accession, arguing for engagement rather than isolation of Chavez, who has found critics across a wide political spectrum in Latin America over his policies and pronouncements.

Any criticism of Chavez provokes a counter argument in Caracas that Western interests are working to demonize or isolate him diplomatically. Recently, however, the country has faced energy shortages and other economic disruptions despite a healthy flow of oil, mainstay and chief source of revenue in the economy.

Lula has backed Venezuela's entry on grounds that other Latin American trade partners will benefit from the huge potential of the country's oil-fueled economy. In messages to Paraguay, Lula urged the opposition-dominated Congress to drop its reservations about Venezuela's entry.

However, Paraguayan Senate President Miguel Carrizosa responded by declaring he would oppose Venezuela "as long as President Hugo Chavez continues intervening in foreign affairs," MercoPress reported.

The controversy has divided Paraguay's Senate, just as the debate in Brazil split parliamentarians there.

Carrizosa said the atmosphere in the Senate was set against ratifying Venezuela's entry. "This has nothing to do with our Venezuelan brothers: we really appreciate them. Unfortunately, their president is nowadays interfering in foreign affairs," he said, in a reference to Chavez warnings Paraguay's right wing was plotting to overthrow President Fernando Lugo.

Analysts said that despite Carrizosa's comments, the Paraguayan Senate could still be swayed in a few months. Senator Emilio Camacho, who will take over the upper house presidency when Congress reconvenes in March 2010, has indicated he would support ratification of Venezuela's entry.

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