Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami famously wrote, “Hell has no true bottom.” And Venezuela may be proof. As the country continues its downward economic spiral, it now faces pressure from Mercosur to meet the organization’s human rights and immigration standards. The South American trade bloc warned that Venezuela’s membership will be suspended if it fails to meet the December 1st deadline to improve conditions, Bloomberg reported. (Upon joining in 2012, the country agreed to the four-year timeline to meet all the requirements.)
In June, Caracas was set to assume the bloc’s rotating presidency, but leading members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay filled the role using an interim team from other states in order to “preserve and strengthen Mercosur,” the ministers said. It was an early warning sign that Venezuela was on shaky ground with its trading partners.
The decline in global commodity prices has led Mercosur to seek out new ties with other trade blocs—including the European Union, which evaluates the human rights records of potential partners. Given Venezuela’s increasing political turmoil, the oil-rich nation is quickly becoming a liability.
“The European Union has condemned Venezuela for human rights violations. So (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro isn’t exactly the best face for Mercosur to have right now,” Roberto Moritan, a former deputy foreign minister in Argentina, told The Wallstreet Journal.
But lack of E.U. support isn’t the only roadblock. As Latin America shifts right, the left-leaning nation is gaining more critics than allies. Argentine President Mauricio Macri has publically called out Venezuela’s human rights record, while Chile and Brazil have voiced concern about the county’s lack of due process and increase of arbitrary detentions.
Inside Venezuela, citizens have taken to the streets to protest triple digit inflation and shortages of basic goods. And President Maduro’s approval rating hovers around 20 percent, signaling that the end of his presidency may be near. In August, he accused the right-wing opposition of planning a coup under the guise of a protest.
Meanwhile, the country continues strengthening some of its controversial ties. Venezuela hosted delegates from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria, among others during the 17th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of states that are not formally aligned with any major power bloc. It was an odd move for an increasingly isolated country that wants Mercosur's approval.
"Having that Mercosur membership is seen as important by the Venezuelan regime to show its population that it is integrated in the region," said Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at Sao Paulo-based think tank FGV. "This will certainly add pressure, but is unlikely to change things in Venezuela," he told Deutsche Welle.
With the December deadline fast approaching, Venezuela may not be able comply in time. According to Brazil, it has only met 30 percent of the requirements. Yet founding Mercosur members haven’t specified what steps the country must take to meet them.
It's unclear whether Mercosur will stand by its promise to suspend Venezuela's membership if it doesn't comply. However, it's a powerful threat to a country that is in the midst of economic collapse. In that sense, anything that nudges Venezuela toward a better human rights record is a step in the right direction.