Host President Horacio Cortes greets President Mauricio Macri in Paraguay at the Mercosur Summit. Photo via Infonews

Today, President Mauricio Macri presented his official foreign policy agenda at the 49th Mercosur Summit taking place in Paraguay. The key issues for Macri were trade and human rights — specifically, political prisoners in Venezuela.

In his speech, Macri asked for a greater display of bipartisanship among the economic bloc and urged the region’s leaders to participate in trade agreements with the European Union (EU) and the Pacific Alliance.

“We don’t want a Mercosur that goes at two different speeds, the time has arrived to step on the gas, make the EU a priority, without forgetting about our friends from the Pacific.”

By this he was referring to the Mercosur’s failure to negotiate a viable trade agreement with either the European Union or the Pacific Alliance. This is in contrast to Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico (who are associate and supervising states of Mercosur) who have signed on to participate in the Pacific Alliance.

In addition to trade, Macri also called for political prisoners in Venezuela to be freed, and soon:

“There cannot be a place for political persecution for ideological reasons nor the illegitimate loss of freedom for thinking differently.”

He went on to say that the electoral victory of the opposition in Venezuela was “a step forward”, but

“In the same way that I’d like to ask for the Venezuelan opposition to be prudent after the elections, I’d also like to ask the party [Mercosur] states and especially Venezuela that we work tirelessly to consolidate a real democratic culture in the region, a democracy that includes everyone.”

Since Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro was not present at the summit, Ambassador Delcy Rodríguez was left to represent her government’s negative stance against the Cambiemos president in a barrage of burns and photos.

Tensions were already high between the presidents even before Macri was elected. Macri had called for the democratic clause to be invoked in order to suspend Venezuela from Mercosur during his campaign (he has since dropped this cause as an immediate priority). Maduro, unlike most Latin American Presidents, wants nothing to do with Macri and had fervently supported presidential contender Daniel Scioli. Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was very close to Venezuela’s former President Hugo Chavez.

Mercosur is a regional trade bloc established in 1991 with member states Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela focusing mainly on economic measures to promote free trade and market union.