[Update] While earlier today it seemed like the Mercosur’s permanent members were going to issue a warning against Venezuela to suspend the Constitutional Assembly called by Nicolas Maduro, the bloc’s final statement had a language that was less harsh and more diplomatic than the one the Argentine government advocated for.
“The member states of MERCOSUR and the associate states of Chile, Colombia and Guyana, as well as Mexico, reiterate their grave concern about the deepening of the political, social and humanitarian crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” the statement begins.
The signing states made an urgent call to “end all violence and the freeing of all those detained for political reasons, urging for the reestablishment of institutional order, the state of law and separation of powers, in a context of complete respect for constitutional guarantees and human rights.” As expected, Bolivian President Evo Morales didn’t sign the statement. During his speech at the summit, he claimed that the United States were behind the Venezuelan crisis, and said that “Maduro was elected by the popular vote.”
Signing heads of state also urged the Caribbean country’s government and opposition “not to carry out any initiative that could further divide Venezuelan society or deepen institutional conflicts.” Even though this seems to be a clear reference to the Constitutional Assembly, it doesn’t make a direct reference to it, nor it conditions Venezuela’s permanence in the trading bloc on Maduro on dropping the initiative, as Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie had suggested yesterday.
We are likely to see additional reactions from regional leaders as the set date of the assembly continues to loom large.
President Mauricio Macri is in Mendoza today heading the closing event of the Summit of Mercosur Heads of State and Associate Members. Even though the heads of state and delegations present will cover several areas of mutual interest, the attention has been placed on the decision by attendees to a warning against Venezuela in the event’s closing statement: If president Nicolás Maduro insists on holding a Constitutional Assembly on July 30 to revise the nation’s constitution, the country could be permanently suspended from the Mercosur.
The presidents of the bloc’s four permanent members — Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay (as Bolivia is still in process of incorporation) — will sign a statement to formally issue the stern ultimatum. When discussing the delicate situation currently facing Venezuela, all members had already agreed in previous meetings on applying the Ushuaia Protocol, a tool used in case the government of a member country “alters the country’s democratic condition.”
It still hasn’t been confirmed whether the presidents of the member states present in the summit will sign the text, supporting the decision, although it’s unlikely that Bolivian President Evo Morales, who still supports the Maduro administration, will agree to do so. Along with former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa, he is the only South American head of state who hasn’t condemned the current crisis in Venezuela.
Macri’s opening speech was mainly focused on general issues concerning the bloc, such as their common goals in areas like drug-trafficking and security. He insisted on the need for it to become a “main player in the world stage,” highlighting the “benefits of integration” and the way the bloc can help the region in the international landscape. He also noted that Argentina will host next year’s G-20 summit, adding that it will be an opportunity “to put Latin America and the Caribbean in a center stage position.”
“We will seek to be the expression of a region, not of a country,” Macri said.
By the end of his speech, Macri addressed the Venezuelan crisis, and sent a “message of solidarity to the Venezuelan people.”
Making reference to the simulated election held by the opposition coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) last Sunday, President Macri said that “people showed the world that they have a commitment with democracy. We reiterate our call for peace, freedom for political prisoners and the need for an electoral calendar.”
He even said the trading block is even willing to create a task force “to facilitate and be the conduit of a negotiation between the parties involved in the conflict.”
While the summit’s closing statement will not only address the Venezuelan crisis — it will mention, among other things, the progress made in negotiations aimed at signing a free trade agreement with the European Union — it will mainly focus on the conflict currently affecting the Caribbean nation. Representatives of the bloc’s members clarified that the potential suspension though will not include economic sanctions, as that would harm the country’s population.
Talking to the press yesterday, Argentina’s relatively newly-appointed Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie anticipated that the decision to expel Venezuela, should Maduro not go back on his decision, will happen before the bloc’s next meeting, set to take place in December: “We don’t have margin to wait a lot; we won’t wait until the next summit,” he said.
The new Foreign Minister’s harsh tone goes in line with the way in which Macri has always talked to the press about the situation in Venezuela. This marks a contrast with the approach taken by former Minister Susana Malcorra — who left her post in late May —, much more measured at the time of addressing the issue.
In fact, shortly after stepping down, Malcorra publicly conceded that she’d had “disagreements” with President Macri and some of her counterparts in the Cabinet regarding what the government’s official stance on the issue should be. “The presidents and many cabinet members had a very, very harsh vision. Mine was that we had to find ways to build bridges to help Venezuela get out from the situation it’s in,” she said in a radio interview.
Venezuela is already suspended from the Mercosur, but only because the country had not met the last deadline it had for complying with the Mercosur’s requirements to put the trading bloc’s “charter in full effect” — a crucial step in becoming a full member. In contrast, this decision would only be a result of the country’s crisis, a much more direct statement about the bloc’s stance towards it.
Back in May, Maduro signed a decree calling for a Constitutional Assembly “to reform the state and draft a new Constitution,” which would replace the 1999 one enacted under his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. The opposition described the initiative as the “final blow in Maduro’s continuous coup to the Constitution.” It’s still unknown how the 500 members of the eventual assembly will be elected, should the President end up holding it. Shortly before signing the decree, Maduro spoke of a “direct and secret election,” but didn’t mention the word “universal,” prompting many to posit that he could handpick the members to his pleasing.
Last Sunday, 7.2 million Venezuelans voted in the simulated elections called by the MUD, with the sole goal of rejecting the Constitutional Assembly. Yesterday, the same sector of the population carried out a 24-hour-long national strike with the same purpose.