Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mercosur Offers Chávez a Lifeline

Manos a La Obra: Hugo Chávez (left) welcomed into Mercosur.

Six months ago, the smart money was against Hugo Chávez still being alive.  Cancer seemed to have set its sights on the Venezuelan leader and with every trip to Cuba for treatment, rumors swirled that the coup-leader-turned-President was near death.  Fast forward to today and it appears that Chávez is not only gaining the upper hand against the disease but has also managed the sort of economic coup that could help save his campaign for President.  After years of wrangling and cajoling his peers in the Southern Cone, Chávez was finally welcomed into the ranks of Mercosur.  While some business leaders in Venezuela and the region have expressed concerns about allowing Chávez into the two decade-old regional trading bloc, Chávez called his admission into the group that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and a recently-suspended Paraguay, "a blessing."  Of course, Chávez's penchant for populism over policy may eventually wear thin on his fellow bloc members.  As one Chávez critic, Adolfo Taylhardat, remarked to the BBC,

"For Chávez, more than joining a system of economic integration, [joining Mercorsur] is a political end.  He has said that he wants a modern Mercosur and that he wants it to worry more about political issues." 

"Para Chávez, más que la incorporación a un esquema de integración, el ingreso es un fin político. Él ha dicho que quiere un Mercosur moderno y quiere que se ocupe más de cuestiones políticas"

In the meantime, the Venezuelan presidential election is set for October 7th.  And with the Venezuelan economy reeling, the promise of new markets for Venezuela will be an important campaign message for Chávez.  Just when he needed it the most, Chavez has been thrown a lifeline by Mercosur.  A lifeline the Mercosur leadership, especially Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, should be worried he doesn't use to drag them down with him.