Heads of state of Mercosur member countries are meeting in the Brazilian capital today, marking the first time that Venezuela will participate as a full member in the South American trade bloc after Paraguay’s suspension in June paved the way for its membership. But health concerns are preventing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez from joining his counterparts from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, with Minister of Petroleum and Mining Rafael Ramirez participating in his place.
The Venezuelan president arrived in Venezuela this morning after 10 days of medical treatment in Cuba. Chávez, 58, was diagnosed with cancer in mid-2011, and since then, has had three cancer surgeries on the island. His prolonged absences have triggered rumors around his health, and bonds have surged as a result of increased uncertainty over Venezuela’s future. When asked about his absence, Chávez explained that his departure from Cuba was delayed by a conversation with Fidel Castro, with whom he had been discussing poetry. He also asserted that Venezuela is “eight days away from the next victory,” referring to the upcoming regional elections that will take place on December 16.
Chávez has been absent from every regional meeting in the past year, including the Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia, in April and the Ibero-American summit held in Cadiz, Spain, in November.
One of the central points on today’s agenda is Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur, following the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo in June. Paraguay’s suspension will likely continue after the meeting and will likely be extended until a newly-elected president takes office in August 2013.