Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Merco-Mess in Montevideo and President Obama’s Jinxed Hopes For a Regional FTA

article from December 21, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

Merco-Mess in Montevideo

The Mercosur meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, showed promise of having all the ingredients of the classical Latin American telenovela (a soap opera with high drama) even before the delegates sat down. The high drama outpaced even the most lurid expectations. I am stunned myself at how this event unfolded.

A little history lesson here for those who have not been able to keep up with the fast-paced developments in the region:

Mercosur, short for Mercado del Sur, or Market of the South, was formed in 1991 by the Treaty of Asunción to promote the free trade and the movement of goods, people and currency. Its member nations are (in order of economic power) Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. There are five nations with associate member status: Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, while the Bolivarian dictatorship of Hugo Chávez signed a membership agreement in 2006. It was to become a South American version of the European Union with a common currency, the fictitious gaucho.

Now, more than 20 years later, the merry-go-round keeps going around. The most recent Mercosur Summit took place in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, where the host, President José Mujica, who is Presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s new lapdog, has been pushing for the incorporation of Venezuela as a new member state, in spite of the legislature of Paraguay’s refusal to ratify its entry. Paraguay’s president, the virile Priest Father (really – three illegitimate kids) Fernando Lugo, was trying to strike a side deal with Argentina’s Kirchner, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Uruguay’s Mujica, which would have bypassed the unanimous requirement from the agreement.
Hugo Chávez already announced the he will (and did) travel to Montevideo to announce Venezuela’s full membership, but something did not go according to plan. The president of Paraguay’s Congress, Senator Jorge Oviedo Matto, made three points very clear:

1. The Paraguayan constitution requires the approval of every international agreement and must be voted on and approved by Congress before becoming law.

2. If the membership of Venezuela will be approved against the objection of the opposition congress, President Lugo will be impeached.

3. The Paraguayan position is not against the nation of Venezuela, but against its dictatorial despot, Hugo Chávez, under whose leadership the Venezuelan government has ceased to respect the freedom of the press or the political freedom of opponents.

In Montevideo, meanwhile, Uruguay’s foreign minister announced that there is a formula on the table, the objective of which is to find a mechanism to assure a prompt entry for Venezuela into the crumbling union, while at the same time Paraguay’s threat to leave the Mercosur was described by Senator Oviedo Matto as being an event by which his country will not be losing much, “…and what have the advantages been so far? There will be no parting tears!”

Chávez’s arrival in Montevideo to announce his country’s entry has been toned down a little bit by his public admission that Venezuela’s incorporation doesn’t have to be decided today (Tuesday, Dec 20).

To add to the high drama, it was revealed during lunch that one high-ranking member of the Argentine delegation, an ultra-Kirchnerite wunderkind, was found hanging from his shower in his luxury hotel suite at the Radisson Hotel. Iván Heyn, Argentina’s under-secretary of commerce, was one of the most promising Young Turks, best friends with former minister of the economy and current Vice President of Argentina Amado Boudou. He was one of the most prominent leaders of the young Kirchnerist organization La Campora, and his future as a political and economic leader was as assured as you can get in Argentina.

His death brought shock and disbelief to the summit, which was temporarily suspended. The headline of the Mercosur press release reads, “On hearing the news, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez suffered a decompensation and had to be taken for medical attention.”

This, of course, will open his tragic death to all kinds of conspiracy theories; but regardless of the circumstances, the loss of such a promising young man is a tragedy.

By 23:30 on Tuesday night, the delegates announced the formation of a working group to help smooth the entry of Venezuela and Ecuador into Mercosur. The member nations also signed a free trade agreement with Palestine and expressed their solidarity with Argentina’s effort to gain control over the disputed (by Argentina) Falkland Islands, referred to around here as las Islas Malvinas.

US Hopes for a regional free-trade agreement

Now that the US finds itself playing second fiddle to China in Latin America, the Obama administration just suddenly rediscovered its old and exploited southern neighbors, with US Trade Representative Ron Kirk wanting to kick-start a trade agreement with South America and calling for a greater opening of the Brazilian economy to the United States. Since 2009, Brazil’s largest trading partner has been China, whose influence is spreading rapidly across the entire Southern Hemisphere.

The Clown Prince of Venezuela, of course, could not resists the opportunity to go on state TV in Caracas on Monday, Dec 19, telling Obama to “leave us alone” and calling him a clown and an embarrassment as well as suggesting that he should focus on governing the US, which, says Chávez, he turned into a disaster.

Very interesting he should say that. He must have been practicing his speech in front of a mirror.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza

[Image of Mercosur Headquarters in Montevideo, Uruguay, via Wikipedia]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.