Chavez says South America should unite, reject U.S. trade pacts
Published on 2006-04-27
SAO PAULO, Brazil
South American nations will have to choose whether they want continental unity or individual trade agreements with the United States — but not both, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday.
’’You either have one or the other. ... they’re like oil and water,’’ Chavez said, after meetings with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina.
Chavez arrived in Brazil early Wednesday amid a storm of controversy over U.S. trade agreements that threaten to rupture Latin American trade blocs. His remarks were aimed at Colombia, whose agreement with the United States was the ninthin the region since a U.S.-backed hemispheric trade pact fell apart last year.
’’Colombia is opening its doors’’ to subsidized U.S. goods, Chavez said. ’’What will invade Colombia is not the marines, but subsidized rice.’’ In one bid to counterbalance the U.S. trade pacts, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela will sign a ’’trade agreement of the people’’ in Cuba Saturday in an attempt to counter free trade agreements Latin American countries are signing with the U.S. government, Bolivian President Evo Morales said.
Speaking in La Paz, Morales said the agreement will allow Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela to trade some products with zero tariffs and strengthen the already close ties between the three countries, all strong U.S. government critics. Chavez has dubbed it a Bolivarian Alternative trade pact based on socialist principles, in contrast with U.S.-backed free-trade deals.
Chavez met with Silva and Kirchner amid worries about the future of the Andean Community of Nations trade bloc, whichincludes Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; and Mercosur, the bloc founded by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
The groups are seen as the embryo of a possible South American free trade zone, promoted by Brazil and seen by Chavez as an alternative to the hemispheric trade union backed by the United States.
But one-on-one trade deals with the United States undermine continental unity, Chavez said.
’’Either we’re a united community or we’re not,’’ he said.
Uruguay’s President Tabare Vazquez said Wednesday that Mercosur could find itself ’’isolated’’ if it did not correct what he described as imbalances that have made the pact ’’useless’’ for his country. Speaking in Mexico City, he urged expansion of the pact to include other Latin American countries, particularly Mexico.
Chavez last week announced that Venezuela would drop out of the Andean Community, which he said was ’’dead’’ because Colombia and Peru had signed free trade deals with Washington. Ecuador is also negotiating a trade agreement with the United States.
Bolivia’s Finance Minister Luis Arce said his country would also consider abandoning the Andean Community if Colombia, Ecuador and Peru go through with individual trade pacts with Washington. In such a case, Bolivia would seek greater integration with Mercosur, Arce said Wednesday in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito. Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told radio station Fides the new pact would allow Bolivia’s farmers export to Venezuela and Cuba their agricultural products, including coca leaves.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who visited Brazil on Tuesday, has said Colombia’s agreement with Washington doesn’t affect its partners in the Andean Community and asked Chavez to ’’save’’ the bloc.
Meanwhile in Lima, outgoing Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo also defended his country’s U.S. trade deal, saying it would ’’free up markets so that (Peru’s) production can be sold there.’’ He dismissed Chavez’s call todropthe agreement with the United States.
In Washington, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the U.S.
Congress will likely not debate free trade agreements with Andean countries this year unless it concludes the debate on immigration and dispels fears that these treaties signify a loss of jobs in the United States.
’’While those topics continue without resolution we will probably not make progress with the speed that some may wish on those (free trade) treaties,’’ she said Wednesday.
Chavez also urged the expansion of a proposed 10,000-kilometer (6,200-mile) gas pipeline from Venezuela to Brazil and Argentina, estimated at US$20 billion (euro16.1 billion). He said Bolivia must also be linked to the pipeline.
Bolivia’s gas reserves of 48.7 trillion square feet (4.5 trillion square meters) are second in the continent to Venezuela’s 151 trillion square feet (14 trillion sq. meters).
’’Bolivia is a priority,’’ Chavez said. ’’This project will guarantee energy ... for allSouthAmerican countries in the 21st Century and beyond.’’
Associated Press reporters E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City, Carla Salazar in Lima, Peru, Jeanneth Valdivieso in Quito, Ecuador, and Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia contributed to this report