The Brazilian Lower House Constitution and Justice Committee passed on Wednesday, November 21, a motion for the long awaited incorporation of Venezuela to the South American trade block, Mercosur. However Venezuelan membership still faces a full debate in the House and must convince the Brazilian Senate.
The debate held prior to the vote disclosed a strong divide among members of the Lower House regarding the political situation in Venezuela, which is proving an increasingly controversial issue for the block's four countries, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.
The chairman of the committee, Paulo Salim Maluf, who sponsored the proposal and although he presented Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez as a "candidate to dictator", he recommended his colleagues to approve the initiative claiming it was in the interest of Brazil.
"It's in the interest of Brazil to promote regional political, economic, social and cultural integration, and on the other hand we can't let the Venezuelan people down," argued Maluf. The final vote was 44 to 17.
Next December 2, Venezuelans will be voting in a plebiscite on a sweeping constitutional reform sponsored by Chavez that would grant him extraordinary powers such as indefinite re-election, access to Central Bank funds, limit private property and also contemplates the arrest of whoever slanders the president or the country.
Brazil's Lower House Foreign Relations and National Defense Committee approved Venezuela's membership on October 24 by a vote of 15 to 1, with 1 abstention. The matter will now go to a vote on the floor of the House. If approved, it will be sent to the Senate.
However the reaction of the Brazilian Senate is still uncertain since earlier this year Chavez called Brazilian senators "puppets of the (US) empire" and "oligarchs" more interested "in their pockets than the people".
Chavez was furious with the Senate for having voted a declaration in support of Venezuela's oldest (and most critical) television channel, Radio Caracas Television, which he refused to renew the license therefore forcing it out of the air.
Some Brazilian senators argue that Venezuela does not comply with Mercosur "democracy commitment" clause. But an unidentified staff member from the Brazilian Congress said Venezuela's incorporation would be voted "before the end of the year".
So far the legislatives of Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela have approved the incorporation; pending are Brazil and Paraguay.