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Mercosur Blues

SANTIAGO – When the leaders of Mercosur met in Caracas this week, the usual bluster about standing up to imperialism filled the air. But so did the unmistakable scent of decay.

Mercosur is usually described as a trade grouping; in fact, it has been a political creation from the start. Brazil, the regional powerhouse, always viewed it as a counterweight to the United States in hemispheric affairs. Peronist governments in Argentina used it to hype integration while doing little or nothing to remove actual barriers to trade. With the entrance of Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela in 2006, the lurch toward populism became unmistakable.