Venezuela becomes full member of Mercosur

By Natalia Ramos, AFP

BRASILIA — After a six-year wait, Venezuela formally joins the Mercosur regional trading bloc as a full member Tuesday at a Brasilia ceremony to be attended by President Hugo Chavez.

Until now an associate member, the oil-rich nation of 30 million people will join current members Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, which was suspended from the group late last month until new elections following the ouster of its president, Fernando Lugo. Venezuela’s membership in the customs union had been blocked since 2006 by conservative Paraguayan lawmakers who viewed Chavez as anti-democratic. “It’s an admission very much wanted by the government of President Chavez,” said Fernando Gerbasi, a former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil. “But I don’t know if that’s the case for the rest of Venezuela.” “Brazil and Argentina are much bigger economies compared to Venezuela, widely diversified,” he told AFP. “Venezuela has turned into a mono-producer and mono-exporter of oil and oil derivatives. So how are we going to compete and for what, I don’t know.” Tuesday’s ceremony will mark the return of Chavez to the international stage after a battle with cancer kept him largely out of the spotlight for months. The 58-year-old leftist firebrand, who was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011, said earlier this month that, after a long series of treatments and two operations in 2011 and 2012, he was “healed.” Chavez, who recently made his first big-crowd appearances, is seeking re-election in an October 7 election; most polling organizations give him leads from zero to 35 percent over his rival Henrique Capriles. The Venezuelan leader is expected to seek to capitalize on his country’s Mercosur admission, according to political analyst Farith Fraija.

International relations expert Edmundo Gonzalez said the push to join Mercosur may be part of “Chavez’s calculated political move” to widen the franchise of leftist Latin American nations, hostile to Washington.