By 35 votes to 27, the Brazilian Senate approved today, December 15, the entry of Venezuela to Mercosur. The issue caused a dispute between the opposition and the governing coalition. The opposition didn't want to admit the accession of what they called a country under an authoritarian regime led by President Hugo Chavez.
The government allies on the other hand stressed the need for trade with the neighboring country and did everything to separate Venezuela from its president.
With the approval of the senate, the accession will be now signed by the President. However, even with the Brazilian approval the entry of Venezuela in Mercosur is not guaranteed. They still need the approval of Paraguay, which deferred to 2010 discussion on the subject. Without support in Congress, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, chose to postpone the debate.
The proposal to admit Venezuela to the Mercosur had been approved late October by the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations and since then was ready to be voted by the full house. In committee, the separate vote of senator Romero Jucá, from the PMDB party, in favor of accession, beat that of rapporteur, Tasso Jereissati, from the PSDB, who opposed the entry of Venezuela in the trade bloc.
Last week, there were more than six hours of heated discussion in Parliament, but the vote was postponed due to an agreement among government leaders who failed to approve the proposal. Despite the fact that today's session was only to vote the matter, new discussions ended up consuming nearly three hours.
By submitting the measure to vote, the leader of the ruling party PT in the Senate, Aloizio Mercadante argued that the vote was not to approve the Chavez government, but his country.
"Chavez is going to die one day. And I'm not making an agreement here with Hugo Chavez, I'm doing it with the people of Venezuela. Hugo Chavez is "morrível" ("deadable")! He will die at some point. Do you get it? No use to get here, the opposition go up and talk about ideology, talk about government, talk about dictatorship," said the leader.
Mercadante questioned the arguments presented by the opposition. "On behalf of whom do they talk? Venezuelan opposition? But even the Venezuelan opposition has asked the Senate to approve the entry of Venezuela in Mercosur, which they see as a path to the cause of democracy. This was the request made to the Senate by the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, when he was here in the Senate," said the PT leader.
The PT senator from Roraima, a state that borders the neighboring country, Augusto Botelho stressed the need for greater integration between Brazil and Venezuela, in order to develop the economy and the structure of his own state.
"We cannot do this (prevent the entry of Venezuela in Mercosur) with the people of my state and the Venezuelan people. 80% of what they eat there is imported. All our energy in Roraima comes from Venezuela and there is also a proposal to integrate our electrical system to the Venezuelan system. Buses used in Venezuela are also made in Brazil. I am against the dictatorship of Chavez, I think Chavez is abridging freedom, but people cannot be harmed," the senator said.
Papaléo Paes, from the opposition PSDB party, pointed out that the accession of Venezuela could hurt deals already done by Mercosur. "This is a shot, not on the foot, but the heart of Mercosur," the senator said.
"Before Chavez spoke of socialism in a vague way. Now he is talking about communism in Venezuela. He believes free trade to be exploitation of people. He proposes bartering, as he now does with Cuba, sending oil and getting doctors in return. Just when there is a resumption of negotiations with Mercosur in the European Union. Mercosur has negotiated an agreement, though limited, with Israel, a country with which Chavez does not accept links," commented Paes.
Senator Marconi Perillo, from the PSDB, also expressed concern over the influence of Chavez in the trade bloc. "Chavez does not bet on agreement. He bets on ruptures. Since I respect human rights, I vote against the entry of that country in Mercosur," he said.
Another PSDB senator, Marisa Serrano argued that the Venezuelan president will cause Mercosur problems by making use of veto power in trade negotiations, a power given to the member countries.
"How to imagine a colonel Hugo Chavez in a negotiating table? How to imagine Chavez with veto power over the negotiations? We know that if one of the members of Mercosur is against any negotiation the deal is void," the senator concluded.