SANTA FE, Argentina – Mercosur hailed on Wednesday in Argentina the new push that led to the recent accord with the European Union, a move that the bloc’s new leader, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, promised to keep alive to obtain new markets and make the South American bloc’s internal dynamic more flexible.
After several summits with little to show, and which were not exempt from cross-cutting demands among the partners, the summit held Wednesday in the Argentine city of Santa Fe proved that Mercosur had managed to break out of its recent inertia and take a leap forward that all the presidents of the bloc called “historic.”
The laurels for the achievement were heaped on the host of the meeting, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who holds the six-month rotating Mercosur presidency and has presided over sealing the strategic alliance with the EU after almost 20 years of arduous negotiations.
“The pact with the EU is the fruit of a collective effort, in which we’ve demonstrated our calling and commitment at the highest level. We should feel proud of having pursued this objective in a sustained manner,” said Macri before passing the bloc’s baton to Bolsonaro.
The Argentine leader, who next October will seek re-election, was hailed by his colleagues, who agreed that the EU pact consolidates the position of the Mercosur members – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – in accelerating the talks with other blocs and countries and in achieving greater cooperation with the Pacific Alliance, consisting of Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico.
“We should move forward with optimism toward the realization of the other accords that we’re negotiating with Canada, South Korea and the European Free Trade Association, which will remain under the leadership of President Bolsonaro,” said Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez.
Bolsonaro – who for the first time assumes titular leadership of the bloc founded in 1991 – said that the foreign agenda will be one of his priorities, along with reviewing the common foreign tariff policy that has prevailed in the customs union for 25 years and the bloc’s institutional reform to make it more modern and flexible.
“We want a Mercosur with less talk and more action,” said Bolsonaro, who up until a few months ago had harshly questioned the bloc’s integration process because of its scanty achievements in that regard and what he has called its political “ideologization.”
The unusually good atmosphere among the presidents of the region allowed them to achieve the consensus needed to move forward on a declaration regarding the strengthening of democracy within Mercosur, a statement signed by all four members, and another on the Venezuelan crisis, which the bloc’s members supported along with the associated states (Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guyana and Suriname).
In the latter document, which only Bolivia refused to sign, the countries expressed their concern about the “serious crisis” in Venezuela and warned about the “severe deterioration” of living conditions in that country.
In the declaration, the members urge the “quick return of democratic institutions” in Venezuela, although they did not mention Venezuela’s incumbent Nicolas Maduro or provide explicit support to acting president Juan Guaido.
This is an issue that divides the bloc, given that Uruguay does not recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, while Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay do and have taken a much tougher position regarding the Maduro regime.
At the presidents’ plenary session, Macri said that Guaido is the “only legitimate authority in Venezuela” and demanded that Maduro “stop obstructing the democratic transition and halt the violations of human rights.”
But other leaders present at the session, including Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who also fails to recognize Guaido, opted not to allude in their speeches to the Venezuelan question, which continues to be a thorny issue within Mercosur despite the bloc’s claim that the current summit represents an “inflection point” on the matter.