Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez was the guest of honor as the newest member nation joined the 30th Mercosur Summit in Córdoba, Argentina July 20-22. But it was Cuba's President Fidel Castro whose rare foreign visit stole the show with some fiery rhetoric and the signing of a new trade pact with the Mercosur.
Defiance of Yankee "imperialism" was a recurring theme at the summit. This might be expected for an event held close to the childhood home of Ernesto "Ché" Guevara. Fidel and his protégé Chávez peppered their discourse with anti-American sentiment. Along with President Evo Morales of Bolivia, the three supporters of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, Chávez's response to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, were a lively addition. Their views, while far from universal in the bloc, pointed to the struggle of the Mercosur to seek a common identity. Bilateral trade talks are gaining ground in parts of Latin America and some have gone so far to say that the Mercosur is little more than a glorified two-way pact between Brazil and Argentina. That is until now.
Venezuela's inclusion was a significant milestone for the Mercosur. Not long ago Venezuela broke with the Andean Community in protest of Peru's and Colombia's bilateral trade talks with the United States. On July 4th, the Presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela signed the protocol in Caracas, welcoming the Bolivarian Republic. With the first-ever expansion of the Mercosur, the five-member bloc represents a large share of the Latin American gross domestic product. If Mexico joins, which is possible despite its links to NAFTA, the Mercosur will become even more significant as a driving force toward social and economic stability in the hemisphere. However the inclusion of Venezuela is also symbolic. It speaks to the changes in politics in the region over the past decade and a half.