One of the questions on the table in Montevideo as the 29th Mercosur Summit happens is: Should Venezuela be a full member of Mercosur? The question divides opinions among Brazilian political scientists.
Marcelo Coutinho, coordinator of the South American Political Observatory at the University Institute of Research in Rio de Janeiro (Iuperj), says the presence of Venezuela in Mercosur would be "a most welcome addition."
He sees the question in practical terms. Venezuela has enormous petroleum reserves and the continent’s third biggest economy, he points out.
"The presence of Venezuela is fundamental for the development of an economic block," he says.
"We also have to keep in mind that Hugo Chavez is transitory, Venezuela’s oil fields are not".
Coutinho adds that for Venezuela to be a full member of Mercosur it will have to renegotiate its relationship with the Andean Community (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia) and that will take time.
Ricardo Caldas, professor at the Political Science Institute at the University of Brasília says that the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, "wants to join Mercosur for purely personal reasons, in order to gain more power."
Caldas says Chavez sees Mercosur as something he can use as a "free campaign platform," where he can broadcast his opinions on international issues. Caldas described Venezuela as "in the throes of neopopulism."
José Eduardo Felício, a Brazilian diplomat, the deputy secretary-general for South America at the Foreign Ministry, says it is quite possible that as of this summit Venezuela will officially be "in the process of joining Mercosur."
Felício sees Venezuelan membership in Mercosur as strengthening the Southern Cone common market and facilitating its integration with the Andean Community, South America’s other economic block.
The 29th Mercosur Summit is also discussing a series of other issues. There is the matter of a regional parliament that the smaller members of the block see as a means to leveling the playing field.
One of the burning issues is just how each member country will be represented – everybody with a fixed number of representatives (which is what the small countries want) or a number of representatives proportional to the country’s population. The parliament would initially be a consultative body emitting only opinions, but that could change by 2014.
Professor Caldas from the University of Brasilia says the regional parliament is politically an interesting idea, but is less important than ironing out problems with the customs union and putting an operative tariff reduction system in place.
Another issue at the summit is development. A special fund (Fundo de Convergência Estrutural) will be discussed. José Eduardo Felício, the diplomat from Itamaraty, says Brazil will surprise the other members with a generous offer for funding projects.
The fund would have a US$ 100 million budget beginning in 2008, of which Brazil is willing to provide 70%. The fund would earmark 48% of its development projects for Paraguay, 32% for Uruguay and the remaining 20% for projects in Brazil and Argentina.