Venezuela strengthens Mercosur bloc

Chávez sees his dream fulfilled as leaders suspend Paraguay’s membership

Madrid -
President Hugo Chávez and Argentina's Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during the Mercosur summit.
President Hugo Chávez and Argentina's Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during the Mercosur summit.EFE

After years lobbying for membership, Venezuela was formally welcomed on Tuesday to the Mercosur regional trading bloc, after Paraguay was suspended for replacing its president Fernando Lugo during a controversial trial earlier last month.

Making his first trip overseas after announcing that he had been cured of cancer, President Hugo Chávez arrived in Brasilia for the special summit with the leaders of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

For six years, Venezuela’s membership into Mercosur had been blocked by the Paraguayan Congress, which charged that Chávez’s government was anti-democratic. Paraguay had been one of the regional bloc’s founding members.

Before the summit, Chávez met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and signed agreements for the purchase of six E190 jet airliners from the Brazilian firm Embraer for $270 million. Brazil gave Venezuela the option to purchase 14 more jets for the country’s national airline Conviasa in the near future.

Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur is expected to make the regional trading bloc a powerful economic force. The country has 296 billion barrels in proven oil reserves, one of the largest in the world. Brazil’s own supplies are estimated at 14.2 billion barrels, combined with a recent find off the country’s Atlantic coast, where experts believe there could be an as much as 100 billion barrels.

Venezuela is South America’s fourth-largest country with estimated GDP of $315.8 billion. With 270 million people, it also ranks fourth in terms of population in the continent. Bilateral trade between Venezuela and Mercosur nations has already reached $5.8 billion.

“Venezuela will increase the bloc’s potential, giving it greater geopolitical and global economic dimensions,” said Brazil’s Rousseff during the summit.

Venezuela will have four years to implement the special trade tariffs under the Mercosur pact.

Since its founding in 1991, Mercosur has made some advances in dismantling trade barriers in the Southern Cone. However, its attempt to seek similar trade deals with the European Union (EU) has been less successful.

Paraguay President Federico Franco, who replaced Lugo, said that he would file a protest against Venezuela’s membership. “The problem of Mercosur is not Paraguay, the problem is Venezuela,” Franco said in an interview with the Buenos Aires daily La Nación. “We have seven percent of Venezuela’s GDP, so they see us as ‘little kids.’ But little kids who are proud of our sovereignty.”

Diplomat held for murder in Nairobi

A Venezuelan diplomat was arrested by Kenyan police over the weekend, charged with the murder of the embassy’s chargé d’affaires at her official residence.

Dwight Sagaray, the first secretary at the Venezuelan Embassy in Nairobi, was detained on Saturday after his diplomatic immunity was lifted.

The acting ambassador, Olga Fonseca, 57, was found strangled in her home on Friday. It is not clear what the motive was but police believe that she may have been killed after throwing a party at her residence the night before.

Police also said they were looking for another possible accomplice, Mohammed Hassan, who they described as a close friend of Sagaray.

Tabitha Ouya, a Kenyan prosecutor, said that Sagaray was a prime suspect in the case, and asked that he be held for 14 days until the investigation is completed.

“The potential witnesses are from the Venezuelan Embassy and we fear that he can influence them. That is why we are asking that he continues to be held so we can gather evidence and charge him with murder,” Ouya said.

But Judge Florence Muchemi ruled that Sagaray could only be held in custody for six days.

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