BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian government may help block Venezuela from taking the rotating presidency of the Mercosur trade group this month, a move it would make in part to prevent beleaguered Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro from strengthening his grip on power.
That move has yet to be decided and has not been discussed with other members of Mercosur, an aide to Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer told Reuters.
Under suspended President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil gave strong, although recently quiet, support to Venezuela’s former President Hugo Chavez and his successor Maduro, who took over when Chavez died in 2013.
The possible move against Venezuela would further pivot Brazil’s foreign policy to the right under Temer.
Temer’s Foreign Minister Jose Serra has said he wants to focus Brazil’s foreign policy more on trade with the United States and the European Union and less on taking what he called ideological stances driven by Rousseff’s leftist Workers Party.
Serra also wants to see Brazil freed from the Mercosur rule banning members from signing bilateral trade deals unless all members agree.
That rule stands in the way of the Temer government’s effort to open up Brazil’s economy, one of the most closed in Latin America because of high tariffs and a lack of trade agreements.
There are two ways Brazil could try to block Venezuela from taking over the Mercosur presidency, said the presidential aide, who requested anonymity because plans were preliminary.
Brazil could work to cancel or delay the meeting this month, which would temporarily keep Uruguay at the head of the trade bloc. Or it could try to win the votes of other members to suspend Venezuela from Mercosur.
That would require invoking the Ushuaia Protocol, which provides for the suspension of a member country if there is a breakdown in democratic order.
Venezuela’s critics say that is clearly happening as Maduro has threatened to suspend the National Assembly as the opposition calls for a recall referendum on his presidency.
Paraguay last week asked for an emergency Mercosur meeting, scheduled for next week, to discuss the political situation in Venezuela and consider a possible suspension.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by David Gregorio