Paraguay will host from this Monday the ministerial meetings and working groups of Mercosur that will precede the Summit of Presidents on Thursday, when Mario Abdo Benítez will yield to his Uruguayan counterpart, Luis Lacalle Pou, the presidency of a regional bloc in quarantine situation for the coronavirus.
The pandemic will be one of the central themes of the summit, which due to health and mobility restrictions will be held by videoconference, like the other meetings.
A meeting that was originally going to be held in the city of Encarnación (south), one of the main Paraguayan tourist destinations, on the border with Argentina.
Abdo Benítez, who will open the virtual summit from the headquarters of the Central Bank of Paraguay, received the Mercosur presidential witness in December 2019 from the hands of his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, in an appointment in which the bloc reaffirmed its vocation for the free trade.
Paraguay picked up the biannual presidency with the commitment to continue promoting multilateralism, although the arrival of the pandemic in the region conditioned its mandate and prevented the work meetings from being carried out in person.
Despite these constraints, talks are ongoing with the European Union (EU) to conclude the legal review of the trade agreement, as well as negotiations with Singapore, Korea or Lebanon, within the commitment to multilateralism and trade agreements with other regions.
A MERCOSUR IN PANDEMIC
The four presidents of the bloc have already met by videoconference to try to coordinate actions and joint purchases of medicines to face the pandemic, although within their borders each country applied its own measures.
Uruguay has been raised as an example for the region for its rapid and efficient control of the pandemic, which since March has left just over 900 infections and 26 deaths in that country.
Paraguay also took effective measures urgently, which initially gave good results, but the numbers began to skyrocket as the restrictions were lifted.
The number of infected since March in Paraguay amounts to 1,942, with 15 deaths and 882 active cases, according to the data updated until this Saturday.
For its part, Argentina reported 2,401 new cases on Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 57,744 positives, while the number of deaths is 1,207.
The increase in the rate of contagion has led the Government to toughen the quarantine in Buenos Aires and its metropolitan area, epicenter of the pandemic in the country, at least until July 17.
The most critical situation is the one experienced in Brazil, where the number of infections exceeds 1.3 million and more than 57,000 are registered, while Bolsonaro continues to encourage de-escalation and maintains his skepticism about the pandemic.
FIRST SUMMIT OF ALBERTO FERNÁNDEZ AND LUIS LACALLE
This virtual meeting will be the first for Lacalle Pou, who assumed the Presidency of his country in March, and for Alberto Fernández, the President of Argentina.
Fernández took office a few days after the previous summit, in the Brazilian town of Bento Gonçalves, the last for his predecessor, Mauricio Macri, who on that occasion defended the vocation of the South American bloc for free trade.
The then vice-president, Lucía Topolansky, representing Tabaré Vázquez, participated in that meeting for Uruguay, who did not attend because of the illness she suffers from.