Social movements from across South America condemned Thursday Merocsur’s suspension of Venezuela, amid speculation the regional bloc could take further action against Caracas.
Outside the bloc’s summit in Mendoza, Argentina, protesters demanded Mercosur retract Venezuela’s suspension.
“The People’s Summit categorically rejects the illegal and arbitrary suspension of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela from Mercosur, because it constitutes a serious blow to the institutionality of the regional bloc,” activists said in a statement.
Bringing together more than 80 grassroots movements from across South America, the People’s Summit has held its own annual meeting on the sidelines of Mercosur talks for over a decade. The summit often discusses issues organisers say can go neglected by Mercosur itself, such as environmental preservation and social justice. In past years, the activist summit has received support from the host country, though this year Argentina’s right-wing President Mauricio Macri refused, citing alleged security concerns.
Despite the lack of support, the People’s Summit has continued to organise. This year, the summit’s focus was on issues such as colonialism and national sovereignty – including for Venezuela.
“The popular movements gathered here recognise and support the constitutional government led by the President … Nicolas Maduro Moros, and offer our full and solid support to the people of Venezuela,” the People’s Summit said.
The statement continued by endorsing Venezuela’s upcoming National Constituent Assembly, which it described as “a mechanism for dialogue and cooperation of all particpants in Venezuelan society, and genuine expression of the will of the people and the only way to peace”.
They also accused the US of continuing to seek to overthrow Venezuela’s leftist government.
“We strongly reject the interventionist threats of the United States, that are made evident by the threat of blockade … against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, as well as all those governments that are accomplices of US interference,” they said.
The White House has hinted it may consider new sanctions against Venezuela.
Responding to the People’s Summit, Venezuela’s ambassador in Argentina, Carlos Eduardo Martinez, welcomed the social movements’ support for Caracas.
“We must keep in mind that what is happening today in the continent, especially in Venezuela, is an imperialist attack that has as fundamental objective to recolonise us, to end our sovereignty and to take possession of all the abundant natural resources of our countries,” he said.
Venezuela itself has no representative at this year’s Mercosur summit. Ahead of talks, Maduro declared the official Mercosur meeting illegal. A statement from his government condemned “the ongoing reckless use of a body for integration as a means of political hostility against the government and people of Venezuela”.
Mercosur’s Rift with Venezuela
Venezuela and Mercosur have been at odds since last year. In December 2016, the regional bloc suspended Venezuela, with critics accusing Caracas of failing to adopt many of Mercosur’s trade rules. At the time of suspension, then Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez accused a group of right-wing leaders such as Macri of staging a “coup” at Mercosur.
Despite protests from Caracas, speculation was growing ahead of Friday’s talks between Mercosur leaders that the bloc could impose more penalties on Venezuela. That speculation was only sharpened when on Friday morning, Argentine media reported the Venezuelan flag was absent from the Mercosur meeting.
“We do not reject the possibility of new sanctions against Venezuela to exclude it from the participation in the bloc’s governing bodies,” Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said, according to Mitre Radio.
He continued, “Our expectations are that Mercosur could urge Venezuela and local authorities to fully restore democracy and full respect for human rights.”
More Unrest Deaths in Venezuela
As the leaders’ summit was set to start in Mendoza, back in Caracas there were new reports of deaths from the Venezuelan opposition’s protests on Thursday.
Six people have been reported killed, though only five have been confirmed by authorities. The first reported death was Andres Uzcategui. Local media have reported Uzcategui was involved in anti-government protests in Valencia when he was allegedly gunned down by the National Guard. A second death was also reported under similar circumstances, with the victim identified as Robert Lugo. Prosecutors say they are investigating the incident. In a second alleged protester death, 24 year old Ronny Tejera was reportedly killed in a firefight in Santa Eulalia de Los Teques. Another possible protester death was also reported in Maracaibo, when Jhovanna Martinez was killed by unknown attackers amid protests.
Two more deaths were reported in Zulia, after a public housing complex was allegedly set ablaze by a group of unidentified attackers. Dozens of residents were reportedly injured, though the deaths haven’t been officially confirmed. No suspects have been identified, though opposition groups have attacked public services in recent months, ranging from hospitals to the transport system.