Mercosur is on flames and Brazil seems absent, according to one of President Lula da Silva’s main political advisors and consultant of the Organization of American States, Ricardo Seitenfus who just recently was back from Uruguay and Argentina.
"We’re looking out to South America and the world and we’re not aware that the soil under our feet is rapidly eroding," said Seitenfus in direct reference to the South American block made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and recently Venezuela.
The pulp mills dispute that has led to an escalating dispute between Argentina and Uruguay, the lack of credible institutions plus the precipitated admittance of Venezuela to the group are rapidly making the group highly vulnerable and volatile.
The Dean of Santa Maria Law School in southern Brazil who participated in a seminar in Montevideo warned that the "political climate towards Mercosur in Uruguay is extremely negative". In the ruling coalition of President Tabare Vazquez opposition to signing a free trade agreement with United States "now is a clear minority".
Later on he said that the display of troops along the grounds’ perimeter of the pulp mill under construction in the Uruguayan side of the river that acts as a natural frontier with Argentina "has escalated the conflict to an extremely dangerous level".
He regretted that the September decision from the Mercosur disputes tribunal against Argentine pickets blocking bridges and routes leading to Uruguay hadn’t been effective, and was further disappointed it was followed by the "facilitating" services of the Spanish crown.
"It’s extremely serious that Mercosur does not have the political will or legal jurisdictional institutions, because the sides involved have had then to appeal to the International Court of The Hague or to request King Juan Carlos to help sort out the controversy", emphasized Seitenfus.
President Lula’s advisor believes that "a major political event is needed" or the involvement of the Brazilian president but "structural problems exist and I don’t think the Brazilian administration is fully aware of the dimension of the dispute."
Further on he said that in the energy question, "all Mercosur projects are medium and long term and our problems and challenges are immediate".
"I believe Mercosur is on flames and contrary to what I imagined left wing organizations don’t have an integration spirit, they seem to be rabidly nationalistic," said Seitenfus in direct reference to the wave of recent elected governments in the region.
However Seitenfus was moderately optimistic about the proposed regional parliament, since this could help to articulate Mercosur away from the "diplomatic sphere; because as long as Mercosur is addressed by Foreign Affairs ministries it will continue to be a structurally weak and superficial organization".
Seitenfus also criticized Argentina and Brazil’s close relation which "harms Mercosur" since the two countries interests are dealt with priority pushing aside the official agenda and the natural aspirations of the group’s junior members.
Finally Seitenfus said the admission of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was adopted following a tariffs timetable agreement extending until 2013, which was denied to other potential members such as Chile.
"Chavez presence could be positive if it concentrates on social care affairs and not only macroeconomic numbers. But it could also turn out to be highly harmful if Mercosur becomes an anti US stage, full of rhetoric and politics."