BRASILIA, (Reuters) – Doubts over Venezuela’s commitment to democracy and a market economy could hinder its entry into the South American trade bloc Mercosur, the head of Brazil’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee said yesterday.
Venezuela has been waiting for nearly four years to enter the bloc — which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. But the congresses of Brazil and Paraguay have kept postponing a vote.
“I’m personally against Venezuela’s entry,” Senator Eduardo Azeredo, told Reuters, a day after being appointed chairman of the foreign relations committee.
While Brazil and Paraguay have left-leaning governments that are friendly with Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez, opposition leaders in both countries say his country does not comply with Mercosur’s democratic principles.
“Venezuela is on its way to becoming a totalitarian regime — it doesn’t meet the democratic clause and its dedication to a market economy is in doubt as well,” Azeredo said in an interview. He said there were also technical problems with Venezuela’s tariff proposals.
Chavez this week seized a unit of American food giant Cargill and threatened to take over Venezuela’s largest private company, after having already nationalized numerous steel, oil, cement and power companies in recent years.
While President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government defended Chavez’s referendum victory in February allowing him to stand for office indefinitely, opposition leaders saw it as a further concentration of power that undermined democracy.
Chavez, a staunch U.S. critic, has fiercely criticized Brazil’s Congress for delaying the vote on Venezuela’s Mercosur entry, saying it was a puppet of Washington.
But Azeredo, of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party, said he had no intention to rush the vote.
“I’m in no hurry, I have no deadline. We will discuss both sides of this issue.” While the government had a majority on the committee, Azeredo said he was unsure how it would vote.
Jose Sarney, head of the Senate, is also critical of Venezuela’s Mercosur entry but said last month he would not block or hold up the vote.