CARACAS – Venezuela harshly criticized on Saturday its fellow members’ decision to suspend it from the South American trade bloc Mercosur, saying Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay had improperly applied the group’s democratic-commitment clause.
“Venezuela emphatically states that it is inappropriate to apply the Ushuaia Protocol since it is based on false suppositions, on illegitimate presumptions,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in a televised statement.
Leftist-led Venezuela, whose government has been widely criticized for forming a Constituent Assembly to revise the nation’s 1998 constitution and re-found the country’s institutions, was indefinitely suspended on Saturday.
That assembly’s 545 members were sworn in on Friday and voted in its opening session on Saturday to oust Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz, who in recent months has become an outspoken critic of President Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government.
The July 30 election of the Constituent Assembly’s members followed months of violent anti-government protests that have left at least 121 dead, nearly 2,000 injured and 5,000 arrested.
Maduro has touted the 545-member plenipotentiary body as necessary to lift Venezuela, which has been racked by months of violent opposition-led protests, out of political deadlock and a deep economic crisis.
But Venezuela’s opposition, which has been stymied in its efforts to oust Maduro via a recall referendum, says the new institution will be used as a mechanism to increase the president’s power and sideline the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Venezuela’s unicameral legislature.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes said in a press conference on Saturday at the Sao Paulo mayor’s office that he and his colleagues from Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay had unanimously decided to apply Mercosur’s Ushuaia Protocol on Democratic Commitment.
That protocol states that “fully functioning democratic institutions are an indispensable condition for the existence and development of Mercosur.”