The calling on the Army and the people to prepare for "a possible war" with Colombia by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez shell-shocked the Brazilian Senate, which was scheduled to vote on Venezuela's full incorporation to Mercosur, the South American common market.
"Undoubtedly it's a factor that will complicate the full house vote," admitted Senator Grim Argello from the ruling coalition of President Lula da Silva which is strongly lobbying for Venezuela's Mercosur membership.
Venezuela's admission protocol was approved only two weeks ago by the senatorial Brazilian Foreign Affairs Committee and is pending a vote in the full house this Wednesday, so it can be definitively ratified by Brazil after almost three years of political negotiations.
Argentine and Uruguayan legislatives have long approved the Mercosur admission protocol, so if approved by Brazil, it would only leave Paraguay pending. Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo was forced to suspend sending the proposal to Congress since he didn't have the sufficient votes.
Last Sunday in his program "Aló Presidente," Chavez called on the military and the population "to prepare for war" since the agreement signed by Colombia with Washington enabling US forces to operate from seven Colombian bases was "geared to attack Venezuela and take our oil."
US and Colombia reject the accusations and point out that the pact is merely a continuation of current bilateral cooperation in combating the drugs trade and guerrillas.
The Brazilian Senate opposition also considers that Chavez statements "don't help at all" the debate on Venezuela's incorporation. "It is further evidence that Chavez sole intention is to set the region on fire," said Demóstenes Torres from the opposition Democrats Party.
Torres said his party would be requesting the vote be suspended so that the Senate can "assess" the extent of Chavez words and adopt a clear position on the issue.
The majority opposition party, the Brazilian Social Democrats, PSDB, has adopted a similar attitude and will be asking the upper house president José Sarney – who does not support Venezuela's admission because of Chavez – to "indefinitely" suspend the Venezuela session.
"The Senate debates can't take place with normality when Chavez is preaching a war climate," said Senator ílvaro Dias, from the PSDB.
Renato Casagrande from the ruling coalition admitted that the upper house must analyze in detail the new scenario created by Chavez since "they have triggered a problem" to people like him who support Venezuela's admission.
There has been no official reaction from the Brazilian Executive. The only comments came from a Peruvian minister who met with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to present Peru's Peace and Security Protocol for the Union of South American Nations.
"We need to build a space of trust and confidence," in the region apparently were Lula's comments to Peruvian minister Enrique Cornejo.
The Brazilian Senate position in support of the Executive following consultations with Venezuelan opposition groups, is that it is better to have Chavez "inside the fold than outside," making alliances with out of the region partners.
Brazilian corporations are also most interested in a strong foothold in Venezuela which lacks infrastructure, is short of food, light industry and following on the war threats has virtually closed all borders with its second most important trade partner, Colombia.
From Venezuela, the opposition described Chavez words as a "smoke screen" to distract attention from domestic problems and called for dialogue with Colombia.
"It's a smoke screen, Caracas is short of power and water, public services have virtually collapsed, Chavez needs to escape from responsibility instead of addressing the problems," said the president of Venezuelan university students.
Colombia meantime announced it would be calling on the US Security Council and the Organization of American States, following Chavez calls to prepare for a possible war with its neighbor.
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