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.
Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza rejected a request yesterday to suspend Paraguay as a member state over the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo. During an emergency meeting of the OAS Permanent Council in Washington DC, Insulza explained that Paraguay’s suspension would negatively affect the country politically and economically while doing little to strengthen democratic institutions.
Bolivia and Venezuela were among the 20 member countries to demand Paraguay’s suspension after Lugo was quickly removed from office by the Paraguayan Congress last month. Lugo called the impeachment a “parliamentary coup” and said the unpopularity of his social programs among legislators was responsible for his ouster. Questioning the democratic nature of the impeachment, regional organizations like Mercosur and UNASUR suspended Paraguay’s membership and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said his government would cut off fuel sales.
Insulza’s response to the episode was more tempered. Shortly after Lugo’s ouster, he recommended that the OAS Permanent Council send a mission to Paraguay to monitor the executive management of the current administration until the general elections in April 2013. The mission would "strengthen governance, to avoid new crises and observe respect for political guarantees," Insulza said.
While bolstered by the OAS decision, Federico Franco, Paraguay’s new president, still faces the daunting task of repairing diplomatic relations damaged by Lugo’s removal.