Mercosur faces its most serious political crisis following the spiraling conflict between Brazil and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who publicly announced a three months "ultimatum" for the definitive approval of his country's entry to the main South American trade block.
"We're going to wait until September. We're not going to wait any longer because the congresses of Brazil and Paraguay do not have the political or moral standing to decide our incorporation (to Mercosur). And if they don't, we'll withdraw until new conditions emerge." said Chavez on national radio and television.
Venezuela's final incorporation to Mercosur must still be voted in the legislatives of Brazil and Paraguay, (Argentina and Uruguay have already done so), but following the incident between the Brazilian Senate that questioned the Chavez regime decision not to renew the license of Venezuela's oldest (and opposition) television station which forced it out of the air, the vote has been stalled.
The Brazilian Congress is waiting for a retraction following Chavez' description of them as "United States parrots" and "oligarchs." Brazil's Foreign Affairs minister Celso Amorim suggested a "friendly gesture," but the Venezuelan president replied that it's the Senators who must apologize for having interfered in Venezuelan internal affairs and considered Amorim's suggestions as "impertinent."
Chavez who missed last week's Mercosur presidential summit in Asuncion, Paraguay, (he was on an arms shopping tour of Russia and Byelorussia and visiting his partners in Iran) was quoted saying in Teheran that Venezuela was not interested in "the old Mercosur, as it stands now", adding it was geared and motivated by "savage capitalism."
"We consider Brazil's Foreign Affairs statement saying that if Venezuela does not apologize, Venezuela's incorporation to Mercosur would become very difficult, as impertinent." said Chavez who insisted that Venezuela has nothing to apologize for. "If the Brazilian government or Congress insists with the apology demand, we would not incorporate to Mercosur."
In Paraguay the president of the Congress Miguel Abdon Saguier said "we have been offended for no reason by President Chavez, we're going to consider the whole issue. It's the Executive that must send the ratification papers."
Paraguay's Foreign Affairs minister indicated that President Nicanor Duarte Flores "is considering the best moment to send the Venezuela ratification project to Congress," which happens to be under opposition control.
And in Brazil Chief cabinet Dilma Rousseff was straight and blunt: "Nobody sets timetables to a country. We don't. Nobody sets dates on us and we don't set dates on nobody."
"It's up to Congress to decide when to vote on the issue, it's certainly not President Chavez. It looks more as a pretext to walk out of Mercosur," said Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee president Carlos Eduardo Vieira da Cunha.
"President Chavez believes he represents the three branches of government, but here in Brazil it's different, branches are independent although harmonic," said Heraclito Fortes, president of the Brazilian Senate Foreign Affairs committee. "The ultimatum seems invented to distract people's attention from the Venezuela's internal political crisis."
However Senator Sergio Zambiasi head of the Mercosur committee sounded more conciliatory and called for an end of the "rhetoric crisis" adding that offended feelings "should not be a reason to prevent Venezuela from incorporating to Mercosur."
Venezuela formally applied to become a Mercosur member on July 4 last year, with the petition signed by President Chavez, Brazil's Lula; Argentina's Nestor Kirchner; Uruguay's Tabare Vazquez and Paraguay's Nicanor Duarte. Bolivia's president Evo Morales was also present as a special guest.
From Montevideo the Mercosur Parliament announced President Chavez' statements have been included in the agenda for the next formal meeting August 6, although a special committee will address the matter July 16.
On Tuesday the Uruguayan Congress rejected an opposition motion to condemn the Venezuelan government for not having renewed the RCTV license, an action described as an attack on "freedom of expression" and contrary to Mercosur "democratic clause."
The Uruguayan Socialist oriented government appealed to its Congressional majority while the opposition walked out at the moment of taking the vote.
Government Congress members argued the Venezuelan government was legally entitled not to renew a press license and recalled that RCTV supported the 2002 coup which almost ousted President Chavez.