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How Mujica’s Enduring Influence Explains Uruguay’s Hypocrisy toward Venezuela

By: Hana Fischer - @hana_fischer - Jul 19, 2016, 2:16 pm
The "Mujica doctrine" explains Uruguay's contradictions when dealing with Venezuela in Mercosur (Día a Día)
The “Mujica Doctrine” explains Uruguay’s contradictions within Mercosur (Día a Día)

EspañolOne of the best examples of what is happening in Latin America lies in the recent developments in Mercosur. According to the rules of the regional bloc, the head of state for every member country is named president pro tempore in alphabetical order for six months. It’s currently occupied by Uruguay, and is set to pass to Venezuela in July.

However, as the date was closing in, all members (except for Uruguay) started to have their doubts about whether to hand it in to Venezuela. According to them, the country didn’t fulfill the requisites for such a post.

The first one to oppose was Paraguay. At the end of June, Paraguayan Chancellor Eladio Loaizaga addressed his Uruguayan colleague, Rodolfo Nin Novoa. In his speech, he asked for a meeting of Foreign Ministers of all founding members in the bloc. The meeting would be to analyze the Venezuelan political situation.

The protocol, signed in 1998, established a democratic clause allowing the exclusion of a country from the bloc should democratic order be broken. Article I states that “the full functioning of democratic institutions is essential for any integration between peer governments.”

After the Uruguayan request, Nin Novoa declared “what’s legal must be above the political” and that “what’s legal is to give the presidency to Venezuela.”

However, Argentina and Brazil agreed with Paraguay’s position. That’s why a Chancellor meeting was ordered.

The aforementioned summit took place last Monday, July 11. There was no agreement on how to deal with the Venezuelan case.  Uruguay was left alone in its position to transfer the presidency to Caracas.  In consequence, the passing of the pro tempore presidency of the bloc to Nicolás Maduro was left on hold.

Also, the delegations of Venezuela and Bolivia were denied participation. It was argued they weren’t invited because the meeting was reserved for founding members (Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina).

In the press conference after the summit, Nin Novoa told journalists there wasn’t much time to answer questions. He was asked why President of Uruguay Tabare Vasquez ‘s administration insisted on giving the presidency to Venezuela. This despite his own chancellor defining the Venezuelan regimen as an “authoritarian democracy.” The chancellor said: “We want to fulfill our legal duty.”

The Uruguayan government insists their motivations are “a matter of principals” and a defense of the law. However, its relevant to analyze their discourse to see if that’s really true.  The reason, we think, despite their high-sounding words is that “the political is being put above the legal.

All the logical and legal principals they’re breaking:

  • If “what’s legal is above what’s political” (with which we completely agree), what’s right applies to the Ushuaia protocol. Such a norm is clearly above all the merely bureaucratic rules of Mercosur’s workings. That’s the principle of hierarchy in legal norms.
  • There are no valid legal reasons not to apply it. Nin Novoa himself qualified the Venezuelan government with the “authoritarian democracy” oxymoron. Article 1 of the protocol establishes that to be part of the regional bloc, “democratic institutions must be working fully.” That’s the principle of non-contradiction.
  • The membership of Venezuela to Mercosur is void, as it originated in a crude breaking of the law. The Paraguayan Senate didn’t agree to its entry. Because of this, the country was arbitrarily suspended, so that Venezuela could finally enter, with the votes of  Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Jose Mujica. This is the principle of legality.
  • The protocol of Ushuaia is as legal as the rule of having to change the pro tempore principle every six months. This is an elemental legal principle that establishes that in a given situation we can’t argue the part that’s favorable to us and reject the part that’s against us. The legal system must be taken as a whole, so we must deal with it harmoniously. This is the principle of coherence.

On the other hand, this line of conduct clashes directly with what Nin Novoa and President Tabare Vasquez argued when they started they took ofiice (2015-2020).  As we pointed out in a column from back then, our chancellor declared with conviction:

“(We have been watching) with great concern the several happenings that don’t coincide with democratic excellence.” He stated that “in Uruguay it would be unthinkable for the government to send the police to break down the door and drag a mayor from his office by force. We said it to the Venezuelan foreign minister and the ambassador. Here, if there’s a legal complaint, you’re called to a trial, you give evidence, and the guarantees of due process are fulfilled … imprisoning opposition figures is definitely a worrying issue.”

He also said it was “extremely worrying” what’s happening there, especially for a country like Uruguay. Uruguay already suffered “the same conditions Venezuelans are living now” thirty years ago. Because of this, “we had to go out to the world to ask for help.” He emphasized that human rights are the “only subject in which the argument of non-intervention in internal affairs is invalid.  Human Rights must be defended from everywhere in the world.”

If this was our chancellor’s argument in the beginning of 2015, why has the Uruguayan government changed its position so radically?

We think the reason lies in the effective power former president Jose “Pepe” Mujica still has. When beginning his rule, Vasquez tried to impose its seal and to distance himself from his predecessor. However, reality showed his authority was very weak.

Mujica always defended and protected Chavez’s regime. He facilitated Venezuela’s fraudulent entry into Mercosur, saying plainly that “what’s political was more important than what’s legal.” It’s not surprising he continues to promote this line of conduct from the shadows.

What’s most infuriating is that legality is still argued as the reason for the current attitude of Uruguay with Venezuela. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. They’re just applying the Mujica doctrine.

Hana Fischer Hana Fischer

Hana Fischer was born in and resides in Uruguay. She serves as a writer, researcher, and international affairs columnist in different media outlets. A specialist in philosophy, politics, and economics, she has written several books and received honorable mentions. Follow her @hana_fischer.