COHA Opinion: Misguided Priorities at Mercosur Summit

At a Mercosur summit on August 3rd in Argentina, member states applauded their success in finally making the trade organization into a full customs union, a process that has been heatedly debated since December 1994.  Almost completely absent from the agenda, however, was the important matter of restoring diplomatic and economic normalcy between Colombia and Venezuela. Although neither country is currently a full member of Mercosur, their persistently stormy relationship has been of deep concern to almost all members. As a result, the lack of resolution for the Colombia-Venezuela dispute indicates the summit’s misguided priorities.

Chavez and Uribe were both conspicuously absent at the Mercosur meeting, and member states merely said that “a solution” to the Colombia-Venezuela tensions would soon be found and urged talks to this end. Perhaps Chavez and Uribe would not be absent if Mercosur members had pledged to discuss these two nations’ pressing difficulties. Although the Mercosur summit was generally a success in terms of economic progress and other trade issues, it seems to have put the Venezuela-Colombia  tensions on the back burner. Mercosur should have prioritized the Caracas-Bogota spat as the primary focus rather than be so absorbed with the customs-union matter, which has been a point of debate for the organization for many years.

Although Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said that the conflict with Colombia falls under the purview of UNASUR (the Union of South American States) rather than Mercosur, this belief is not necessarily the case.  UNASUR is ultimately meant to be a merger of Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations.  However, Mercosur cannot at this stage limit its focus to only economic issues since it has not wholly merged with UNASUR.  The difference between Mercosur and UNASUR is that Mercosur was originally a Free Trade Agreement between several South American nations and UNASUR is supposed to eventually absorb Mercosur and continue to discuss economic issues and their political implications. Mercosur will not likely be fully integrated into UNASUR if it continues to ignore issues that are important for both organizations. Moreover, the Venezuela and Colombia dispute at heart is of an economic nature, since much of the conflict revolves around oil, a driving force behind economics throughout the world.

Mercosur member states urged for talks between Venezuela and Colombia to take place. Maduro praised progress made by UNASUR last week in convincing those nations to engage in more diplomatic dialogue.  Unfortunately, one organization may not be enough to resolve such a multi-faceted issue.  If Venezuela and Colombia were to reach not only a diplomatic agreement through UNASUR but also an economic arrangement through Mercosur, the issue would be much more likely to be resolved.  Troop mobilization by Venezuela requires a complex solution that includes both politics and economics, meaning that both organizations should be involved because mobilization requires a solution on the economic and the political front.  In an attempt to limit any overlap between the two organizations, however, Maduro is actually limiting the speed and efficiency of reconciliation.

The lack of meaningful discussion regarding Venezuela and Colombia at Mercosur could also be due to Colombia’s accusation against Venezuela that its neighbor did not abide by UNASUR’s declaration on July 30. The Venezuelan newspaper El Universal quoted Colombian Foreign Minister Jamie Bermúdez, as saying that “We agreed on a final declaration which had been virtually adopted by all [member countries], which included Colombia’s request to establish a mechanism for effective cooperation and monitoring of the alleged presence of guerrillas in Venezuela.” Bermúdez guessed that “Venezuela changed its mind at the last minute, when all the foreign ministers had agreed on an official position.”  Mercosur could have reversed Venezuela’s decision to flout UNASUR’s declaration by urging the countries to attend the meeting and act as ombudsman between the two nations.  Chavez reportedly skipped the summit due an attack of the flu and Uribe was preoccupied with the Venezuela crisis, which looked as though it could escalate to skirmishes.  However, if Mercosur had agreed to discuss Venezuela and Colombia in more detail, perhaps with the cooperation of all member nations, some kind of agreement on the conflict could have come from the process.

In addition, Mercosur should have realized that Venezuela and Colombia have other important immigration issues to discuss, besides FARC’s migratory habits, and these fall comfortably within the organization’s mandate.  According to El Universal, “there are about 4.5 million Colombian residents in Venezuela” and “more than 350 Colombians arrive in Venezuela day by day.” Mercosur could have discussed Colombian and Venezuelan immigration policies and given advice on how both nations could enforce laws that other Mercosur member nations have successfully implemented.  Mercosur chose not to do this however, and it became clear that the organization’s treatment of the border security dispute was unduly shallow. In other words, Mercosur had exhibited misguided priorities: instead of focusing on the short-term resolution of a very provocative dispute, members spent their time on fully establishing a customs union, a development that in any event would have inevitably occurred.

13 thoughts on “COHA Opinion: Misguided Priorities at Mercosur Summit

  • August 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm
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    It could have been that everyone figured that Uribe was throwing tantrums and by just waiting a week the problem would be greatly reduced.

    Santos is a man of Uribe's ideology, but maybe he's not of the same temperament. Let us hope, anyway.

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  • August 10, 2010 at 3:07 am
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    I wonder why, this article within this context does not mention the US military base in Columbia and that Uribe and his successor Santos work as sub-agents or proxies of the United States?
    MERCOSUR representatives would have to address this political issue when deciding to be ombusdman in this conflict, I think, and as it looks like as if they don't dare to do so.

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    • August 10, 2010 at 7:48 am
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      Thank you for your comment. COHA is currently working on another article which goes more in depth into the Colombia-Venezuela tensions which will certainly discuss the point you raised. This opinion piece is not meant to be an all-encompassing piece on the subject.

      Sincerely,
      Stephanie Lloyd

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  • August 10, 2010 at 5:30 am
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    I just read a note from AFP, that Hugo Chavez will meet Juan Manuel Santos today, Tuesday, seeking for reconciliation with Columbia. Additionally, he had asked the FARC for the release of their prisoners as a gesture of "good will".
    According to another note of AFP Chavez had refused Larry Palmer as ambassador in Venezuela.
    No wonder, I think, Palmer is infamous as hard-liner, not only while respresenting US interests in Cuba as sucessor of James Cason, who already transcended diplomatic rules travelling throughout Cuba for gathering "dissidents" for subversive jobs, but also in Germany, authorities had problems with Larry Palmer when he promoted and defended obscure sects of US origin.

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  • August 10, 2010 at 5:40 am
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    Completely misguided article. Mercosul is all about trade union and nothing else. It is not a forum to debate diplomatic relations among South American countries (although discussion do occur in the backstage). And UNASUR is not a would-be merge between Mercosul and the Andean countries, it is just a forum for South America debate security and border-related issues.

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    • August 10, 2010 at 7:46 am
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      Thank you for your comment. I did not mean it was literally a merger between Mercosul and the Andean countries, I meant it in a metaphorical sense. I meant to write that it was supposed to bring together countries from both those organizations to discuss political issues. While I recognize that UNASUR is currently a forum for South America debate on security and border-related issues, I believe it has potential to branch out to other discussions in the future. I apologize if my opinion was confused with fact.

      Sincerely,
      Stephanie Lloyd

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  • August 10, 2010 at 6:34 am
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    Brazilian President Lula and Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner both said that the Mercosur meeting was excellent. Personally, I respect their opinions on the matter much more that than of Ms. Lloyd, who seems to be out of touch with the diplomatic maneuvers that were taking place in this part of the world. A confrontation between Presidents Chávez and Uribe would have served no purpose, especially since there remained only a few days of the Uribe presidency when the Mercosur meeting took place.
    The article totally ignores the fact that the president-elect of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, met with Presidents Lula, Kirchner, and Kirchner’s husband, ex-president of Argentina Nestor Kirchner, the week before the Mercosur meeting. Lula and Nestor Kirchner then met with Chávez before going to Bogota for the inauguration of Santos
    Today (August 10) Presidents Chávez and Santos will be meeting in Bogota. This is certainly a more positive development than what Ms. Lloyd would have advocated in the Mercosur meeting. It is also something she should have been aware of in writing this editorial.

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    • August 10, 2010 at 7:42 am
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      Thank you for your points. I did not mention these developments because I was attempting to focus on how UNASUR and Mercosur could have worked together to reach a solution between Colombia and Venezuela, not on meetings specific to the Colombia-Venezuela problem. Of course, I agree that the outcome of the Mercosur meeting was excellent in terms of economics. I would have, however, liked to have seen more diplomatic discussions about Colombia and Venezuela. However, your point is well-taken and I thank you for adding to my opinion-piece. Because it is an opinion piece, it is not as detailed as other articles on this website.

      Sincerely,
      Stephanie Lloyd

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  • August 10, 2010 at 6:35 am
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    In her analysis of the situation, Ms. Lloyd only quotes the ultra-anti-government newspaper in Venezuela, El Universal. That, too, is unfortunate. El Universal would have celebrated a verbal boxing match between Uribe and Chávez.
    On the eve of the important Chávez-Santos meeting in Colombia, I was sorry to see COHA publishing what seemed to me to be a rather simplistic, arrogant, and out-of-touch analysis of what Mercosur should have done at its recent meeting and an incredible lack of understanding of its current role in Latin America.
    Charles Hardy, author of Cowboy in Caracas; A North American’s Memoir of Venezuela’s Democratic Revolution.

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    • August 10, 2010 at 7:39 am
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      Thank you for your points. Of course, this is only a reflection of my opinion, not a reflection of COHA's opinion as a whole. It is, of course, more simplistic than other articles that I have published on COHA in the past because I attempted to summarize the situation and express my opinion on the matter. And although currently Mercosur is more of an economic organization, I would like to see it take on a more diplomatic role in the future, which is the point of this article.

      Sincerely,
      Stephanie Lloyd

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  • August 10, 2010 at 9:49 am
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    As far as I could determine, the author was advocating a change of policy by Mercosur. Whether or not that is likely or feasible is another issue. Also, so what if the author (and COHA for that matter) side with Caracas? One would think one would know that going in given the organization's ideology. There are substantive reasons to object to this position, but "implistic, arrogant, and out-of-touch" isn't one of them.

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  • August 12, 2010 at 9:00 am
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    Very fortunately, the south American presidents and trade reps are unlikely to be thrown off track by Ms. Lloyd's "opinion" of what they should or should not be doing.

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  • August 15, 2010 at 10:38 am
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    What it really seems misguided is the target of this article, which instead of focusing on Mercosur's agenda chooses to focus on an interstate conflict which is not within the realm of Mercosur. Instead of criticizing the summit for its failutre to address the Venezuela-Colombia issue, it should have analyzed how it made progress (or not) in terms of its goal of reaching a common market of the South.

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