Mercosur, the free-trade area covering much of South America, is an unlikely place for backstabbing and intrigue but Venezuela brings drama. The Bolivarian Republic pleaded for entry to the customs union for six years but was blocked by Paraguay’s conservative senate. After Paraguay’s legislators booted President Fernando Lugo from office in June, the country was suspended from Mercosur membership amid accusations of breaking with democracy. A week later, Venezuela took advantage and joined the body “through the back door”, as Caracas newspaper Tal Cual put it.
That sets up a muddle when Paraguay holds elections and seeks to reintegrate with the group. In September, Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota said he hoped Paraguay could rejoin soon. But in August Paraguay’s senate again voted to reject Venezuelan membership, based in part on Venezuela’s own failures as a democracy.
Venezuela has four years to comply with Mercosur free-trade standards, many of which require the government to change cherished policies on protectionism and currency controls. Half a dozen Mercosur rules may conflict with Venezuelan policy, including free trade with Colombia and Israel; this after Venezuela pulled out of the Andean Community to avoid free trade with Colombia. If Paraguay forces Venezuela out of the group don’t be surprised if Venezuela just lets it happen.