This posting is a guest contribution by Dr. David Fleischer, Emeritus professor of Political Science at the University of Brasília, and editor of Brazil Focus – a weekly political risk newsletter
After months of “wrangling” in the Brazilian Senate over whether Venezuela should be admitted to full membership in Mercosur, this question advanced in the Senate last week. The Chamber of Deputies approved this Mercosur protocol last year, but the Senate balked to the point that President Hugo Chávez said that “Brazil’s Senators are ‘lackeys’ of the Bush government”. As might be expected, this epithet offended the sensibilities of some Senators.
This “never-ending-story” appeared to be near termination in the Brazilian Senate – in the CRE (Foreign Relations Committee) on Thursday, 29th Oct. The CRE is chaired by a Opposiiton Senator Eduardo Azeredo (PSDB-MG) who designated Senator Tasso Jereissati (PSDB-CE) to elaborate the brief (draft resolution) to be submitted to the Committee. The Jereissati brief was negative (against approval of Venezuela becoming a full member of Mercosul). However, government floor leader Senator Romero Jucá (PMDB-RR) submitted an alternative brief approving Venezuela’s entry into Mercosul.
On Tuesday, 27th Oct., the CRE heard testimony from the Mayor of Caracas who opposes Pres. Hugo Chávez – Antonio Ledezma. The Mayor argued in favor of approval of Venezuela’s Mercosul entry by the Brazilian Senate, but stated that the Senate should impose “conditions” – especially that Venezuela respect the terms of the Mercosul protocol regarding respect for democracy and human rights. Remember: Based on this “democracy protocol”, in 1997, Brazil and Argentina threatened to expel Paraguay from Mercosul if “democracy” were not respected (when the Paraguayan military were about to stage a coup). This threat was a success and the Paraguayan military backed down.
The protocol for Venezuela’s full membership in Mercosul was drafted quite “hastily” and was signed before the conclusion of negotiations regarding tariff reductions by Venezuela in accordance with Mercosul rules. Usually, these negotiations are quite difficult and “painful”. For example, it took 12 years of negotiations for China to be admitted to the WTO, and Russia is trying to gain admission for 19 years. Many consider that Mercosur committed a very grave error, “putting the cart before the horse”.
The Senate Committee was scheduled to meet on 29th Oct. – the date coinciding with Pres. Lula’s visit to Venezuela – BUT Senator Mozarildo Cavalcanti (PTB-AP) filed a motion (for a Senate mission to visit Venezuela) aimed at postponing the session. However, the CRE disregarded this motion.
After some “heated” debate, on Thursday, 29th Oct., the CRE approved the protocol (with no restrictions) that would admit Venezuela as a full member of Mercosul on a 12-to-5 vote. It was a straight vote by the two blocs: Opposition – the two DEM and the three PSDB senators voted Nay, and the 12 Senators from the government bloc votes Yea. However, this question should only be deliberated by the full Senate next week – November 4 or 5. Thus, Lula was left with at least a “partial victory” (the CRE vote) during his visit to Caracas.
Even if the full Senate ratifies the Mercosur accord regarding Venezuela, this would leave Paraguay as the only Mercosul member pending ratification. Last month, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo withdrew the accord from consideration in the Paraguayan Senate (where the Opposition has an absolute majority) out of fear of defeat. Perhaps after Brazilian ratification is completed, the Paraguayan Senate might reconsider its posture. The press reports that this might happen only in 2010.
Many Argentine analysts praised this decision by the Brazilian Senate committee, saying that Venezuela would add additional “weight” to Mercosur, especially in its negotiations with the EU. Brazil’s trade surplus with Venezuela has risen steadily during the Lula government — since US$333 million in 2003 to US$4.612 billion in 2008. However, this surplus has tapered off to US$2.192 billion in the first nine months of 2009.