Things keep getting worse for Nicolás Maduro.
Local newspaper La Nación is reporting today that member countries of the Mercosur trading bloc — Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil, as Bolivia is still in process of adhesion — have already made the decision to suspend Venezuela from the trading bloc.
Foreign ministers representing the four nations warned yesterday that they would meet this Saturday in Brazil to set a “definitive” position on the conflict. However, La Nación says this morning that will be “a mere formality”, as they have all made up their minds about enacting the Ushuaia Protocol’s so-called “democratic clause,” which would suspend the Venezuela’s right to participate in the meetings from the bloc’s different agencies. In practical terms, this means Venezuela’s expulsion from Mercosur.
Even though the decision is not official yet, all indicators point at this being the outcome of tomorrow’s meeting, considering that perhaps the only variable that could have prevented it is no longer such: Uruguayan officials, who so far had maintained a soft — yet, still critical — position and had allegedly insisted against the move last month during the latest Mercosur summit also have now reportedly changed their minds.
Uruguayan newspaper El País informed yesterday that it appears that this time the Tabaré Vázquez administration would support the initiative spearheaded by the other three countries tomorrow.
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President Mauricio Macri has been pretty clear about how it feels so far. In fact, Macri himself weighed in on the issue yesterday and argued that “Venezuela has to be suspended from Mercosur.”
A few hours later he also announced that he would take away Nicolás Maduro’s Order of the Liberator General San Martín award — a distinction the Argentine government grants to “civil or military foreign officials who deserve a high grade of honor from the nation” — for his government’s “systematic violation of human rights.” Former President Cristina Kirchner had honored Maduro with the award in 2013.
However, before reacting to the bloc’s decision, the Maduro regime has to deal with another blow, one that will surely have a larger effect: the Vatican today requested that the country’s Constitutional Assembly, set to have its first session today, be suspended. In a press release issued by its State Secretariat, Pope Francis requested that the government “avoid or suspend the initiatives in course, such as the new Constitutional [Assembly] which, more than favoring reconciliation and peace, favors a climate of tension and confrontation and put the future in danger.”
“The Vatican asks all political actors, particularly the government, to ensure the full respect for human rights and fundamental liberties, as well as the current Constitution,” the release adds.
The Vatican tried to mediate and bring both camps together at the end of 2016, but its attempts proved unfruitful. However, the relationship between the Pope and the opposition severely deteriorated in April this year, following a statement from Francis to the press, in which he argued that if they were to relaunch a mediation process, “it would have to be with conditions, because the opposition is divided and part of it doesn’t want to [dialogue].”
This prompted harsh reactions from Venezuelan opposition leaders. The Governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, said back then: “I heard some statements from the Pope, who says the opposition is divided. That’s not true. He speaks as if one side wants to dialogue and the other one doesn’t. All Venezuelans want to dialogue, but we are not willing to a dialogue Zapatero style.” By this, he was making reference to former Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who was part of the talks and the opposition considered sided with the government.
Despite the Pope’s words, the Maduro administration still hasn’t given any signal of considering a backtrack on the president’s plan to amend the Constitution, even though it postponed the Assembly’s first session for a day. Its 545 members took oath yesterday and, at least at the moment this article was being written, they were planning on beginning the process to reform the country’s Constitution today.
Tensions are set to reach a boiling point on Thursday, as the Assembly intends to session at the Parliament’s Oval Room, right across the hall from the National Assembly — still the country’s legislative body, where the opposition holds a majority. Moreover, opposition leaders have called their supporters to march to the Legislative Palace to reject the Assembly they consider illegitimate. Expect breaking news coming from Venezuela soon.