President Fernando Lugo takes over the leadership of Mercosur, amid concerns regarding trafficking of drugs and weapons purchased in Paraguay
The 40th summit of the leaders of Mercosur (the Southern Common Market) was held in Foz de Iguazú this Friday 17 December, bringing together the heads of state of five Latin American nations: Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay.
The meeting marked the end of pro tempore President Luiz Inácio da Silva’s six-month term. Lula, who will also step down as Brazilian president at the end of the month, handed over the Mercosur baton to his Paraguayan counterpart, Fernando Lugo.
The new president took the opportunity to recall Lula’s ‘brilliant performance’ as the spearhead of the organization, praising him as an ‘exceptional human being’ who fostered ‘solidarity’ and ‘progress’ and strengthened the bonds between the member countries. Setting the previous presidency as a model to uphold, Lugo stressed the importance of overcoming social asymmetries as a means to consolidate the well-being of the union.
In his speech, the Paraguayan President made no reference to the Argentine dock strikes which have compromised his country’s trade sector for the past weeks, although it is possible that the issue was addressed in a private meeting prior to the summit.
Nonetheless, in public the atmosphere seemed to be one of unity and mutual respect. The meeting culminated in a photograph of the leaders smiling and holding hands, with the meeting’s slogan ‘Todos Nós’ (All of Us) serving as a backdrop to the scene of concord.
However, Argentina’s strikes and their consequences for Paraguay are not the only event shaking the unity of this Latin-American community under its new leadership. Paraguay itself has been the focus of international concern of late. Earlier this week, Brazilian authorities uncovered a route used by a gang to cross the border in stolen cars into Salto del Guayrá in the south-east of Paraguay. The group exchanged the cars for drugs and weapons, which were then brought back to Brazil.
Corrupt officers in Paraguay were implicated in the scheme. The leader of the gang told Brazilian reporters that he frequently paid bribes of R$400 (US$233) for authorities to turn a blind eye to his group’s activities. It seems the gang had been using the route for some time; a growing number of Brazilian cars are appearing in Paraguay with their original license plates.
The injection of weapons from Paraguay into Brazil is not a recent problem. The volume found around three weeks ago during the police invasion of favelas in Rio de Janeiro has led authorities to believe their south-western neighbour to be an involuntary accomplice in the trafficking.