(AP Photo/Andre Penner)

The foreign ministers of the member states of the Mercosur finally announced on Saturday their decision to suspend Venezuela from the regional trading bloc indefinitely. As it had been anticipated during the week, the bloc’s four full members — Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay — decided to enact the Ushuaia Protocol’s so-called “democratic clause,” which suspends the Caribbean country’s right to participate in the meetings from the Mercosur’s different agencies for “interrupting the democratic process.”

This is the harshest sanction that the bloc’s charter contemplates and, in practical terms, it means Venezuela’s expulsion from it. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was less than happy about this and made it very clear in some very hostile public statements that he made in reference to his Argentine and Brazilian counterparts Mauricio Macri and Michel Temer. But we’ll come back to that later.

In order for the Caribbean country to go back to its previous status within the bloc, other member countries will have to conclude that its government has “restored democratic, respect for the institutions, has freed political prisoners and established a legitimate electoral process.”

Speaking from the Sao Paulo City Hall in Brazil — where the Mercosur meeting took place — the foreign ministers took turns to criticize the Maduro regime and then issued a unified message: “the effect [of the suspension] is the political isolation of a country that is going down a path that is unacceptable for all of us. We are saying: ‘Stop that! No more death! No more repression! It’s not possible to inflict so much torture on people,” said Brazilian Foreign minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira.

Foreign Ministers of Mercosur from left Argentina s Jorge Faurie Paraguay s Eladio Loizaga Brazil s Aloysio Nunes Sao Paulo Mayor s Joao Doria and Uruguay s Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa stand before giving a statement to the media in Sao Paulo Brazil Saturday Aug 5 2017 The South American trade bloc has decided to suspend Venezuela for failing to follow democratic norms AP Photo Andre Penner
Foreign ministers of Mercosur from left to right: Argentina’s Jorge Faurie, Paraguay’s Eladio Loizaga, Brazil’s Aloysio Nunes, Sao Paulo Mayor Joao Doria and Uruguay’s Foreign minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa stand before giving a statement to the media in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo via AP/Andre Penner)

Argentine Foreign minister Jorge Faurie made a statement along the same lines, saying that “we are here to say that there’s no democracy in Venezuela”: “No more repression! Restore democracy!” he added.

In an interview with La Nación later, Faurie highlighted that, despite the decision, it would still be possible to reach a solution to the crisis even with Maduro as president: “He can be the producer of a solution; there were a lot of other leaders that were questioned in the international landscape who entered a path of negotiation or concession. First, a dialogue is needed between government and opposition,” said Faurie, who, however, clarified that right now he believes that the Maduro regime is “clearly a dictatorship.”

Predictably, Maduro’s answer didn’t take long to come. In an interview with Argentine controversial social leader Luis D’elía, Maduro refused to recognize the decision and said that “no one removes Venezuela from the Mercosur, because we are the Mercosur.”

He expanded on this idea while addressing the audience on the TV show he hosts on Sundays, “Sunday’s with Maduro” (creative, I know)  when he said that “there’s no country in Latin America that has a democratic life like ours.”

He went on to back up his claim by enumerating all the elections held in Venezuela since the late president Hugo Chávez took office, and defending their alleged legitimacy and transparency. After naming — and criticizing — all South American countries that condemned the numerous human rights violations taking place in the Caribbean country, Maduro targeted those who he considers his largest enemies in the region: Argentine and Brazilian presidents Mauricio Macri and Michel Temer.

“That man can’t even go stand on the corner, anywhere,” he said about Macri, who he called Mr. demacriated [a pun with the Spanish word demacrado, which could be translated as emaciated. Again, creative.]” Moreover, he called Temer a “little dictator” and lashed out at him for publishing a video on Twitter “talking about Venezuela as if he were the Venezuelan president.”

“What’s that called? Abuse! Interventionism. A guy who was elected by nobody. Temer was chosen by nobody, he staged a coup. In Brazil there’s a de facto government repudiated by the entire Brazilian society,” he said.

Venezuelan state-run media outlet Telesur echoed Maduro’s claims, arguing that the country had been “illegally suspended from the Mercosur,” a result of a “campaign backed by the presidents of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.”

The crisis in the Caribbean country continued to unfold during the weekend with frenetic pace: in its first hours of the country’s new, all-powerful organization — at least in the government’s eyes —  the newly-formed Constitutional Assembly made two highly controversial decisions: it announced that it would session for at least two years, which means that elections for all public offices could be suspended during that time; and forcefully removed General Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz, a once supporter of the regime who has now turned a fierce critic of the Maduro administration after his decision to call for the Assembly.

In a public statement, Ortega Díaz rejected her removal and said: “I don’t give up, Venezuela doesn’t nor it won’t give up to these barbaric acts, illegality, hunger, darkness and death. Our people have to keep hope and unity alive.” Ortega had to escape her office in motorcycle after the army took over the Prosecutor’s building.

Photo via Caraotdigital
Photo via Caraotdigital

Shortly after, the president of the country’s Supreme Tribunal announced that Ortega Díaz would be subjected to trial, banned from leaving the country and have her assets frozen. The assembly appointed her replacement, Tarek William Saab, immediately after.

In the late hours of Saturday, opposition leader Leopoldo López was returned home after having been abducted by government intelligence forces on Tuesday. López was taken to a prison outside Caracas, accused of wanting to escape the home arrest he is currently serving. The decision prompted widespread condemnation around the world. 

“Leopóldo has just been brought home,” announced his wife, Lilian Tintori, on Twitter.

Tensions continued to escalate on Sunday morning, when a group of Army officials announced that they were rebelling against the government and took over the Paramacay Fort, in the Northern region of Venezuela. In a message posted on social media, the movement’s leader, Juan Caguaripano, announced that he and the people dressed in military uniform behind him —   it’s unclear whether they were officially army members — were declaring themselves in rebellion “to reject Nicolás Maduro’s murderous tyranny.” Caguaripano had deserted from the army in 2014, amid the anti-Maduro protests that took place back then.

Of the people involved in the uprising, two died and eight more were arrested, following clashes with the armed forces tasked with suffocating it. The rest of the rebels managed to escape. “Part of the group got some weapons and are under intense search from security organizations,” read an official statement from the Army. Venezuelan Defense minister Vladimir Padrino López called the incidents a “terrorist, paramilitary, mercenary attack paid by the right-wing and its collaborators, paid by the American empire.”