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Iglesias: Minister repeats demand that Bogotá, Lima drop deals with Washington

Daily Journal, Caracas

Iglesias: Minister repeats demand that Bogotá, Lima drop deals with Washington

No to ’colonialism’

A government minister said Venezuela favored integration, but under the right sort of rules. NAFTA had not worked out for the benefit of the Mexican people, and Andean Pact countries would do better to sign up for the Bolivarian Alternative proposed by the president. The government agrees to Bolivia’s plan for a summit on the future of the Andean Pact.

Jeremy Morgan |DJ Staff

26 April 2006

Light Industry and Trade Minister María Cristina Iglesias reiterated the government’s position that Colombia and Peru would have to abandon the bilateral trade deals they recently signed with the United States if Venezuela were to stay in the Andean Community of Nations.

Echoing President Hugo Chávez’ argument, she said those agreements represented a return to "colonialism" that would work against the interests of society. She claimed that the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico had done nothing to improve the conditions of the Mexican people.

Instead, Iglesias continued in an interview broadcast on Tuesday by the state television station, channel eight, the plight of the Mexicans had, if anything, gotten worse. Two million jobs had vanished in Mexico, and five million people had tried to cross the border into the United States.

Venezuela, she said, had a free spirit and favored regional integration, but with "sane relations" and the president had proposed setting up the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). In this, he had the support of other leaders in the continent, she added.

Referring to the call by Bolivian President Evo Morales for an emergency summit meeting to discuss ways of ensuring the future of the Andean Pact, Iglesias said the Venezuelan government was willing to go along with that. But, as Chávez had already indicated, there would have to be changes in order to make the Community work for the populations of the member countries under what she called "people’s trade treaties."

Iglesias noted that relationships between people were different to those between their governments. Some people looked to the north with a colonialist mentality, while for others, "we look to the south and think of the liberation of the people." For the government, the choice for Venezuela was quite clear, and its aim was freeing the people of their worst enemy, poverty. The choice was "life, sovereignty and the dignity of the people."

Iglesias suggested that the trade deals signed with Washington by Bogotá and Lima included secret clauses that would never be known by the people. She did not go into detail about what these allegedly stipulated.

As to Mercosur, the alliance forged by Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, this should be advanced on the basis of clear and transparent rules for everybody. Chávez is actively pursuing full membership of Mercosur for Venezuela, which at present has associate status.

Chávez has claimed that the bilateral deals are aimed at securing by other means Free Trade Agreements proposed by the Bush Administration. He has vowed that Venezuela will, under no circumstances, join the FTAA, and makes no secret of his efforts to dissuade other Latin American countries from doing so. The U.S. is Venezuela’s second largest trading partner after Colombia.

Some people looked to the north with a colonialist mentality, while for others, "we look to the south and think of the liberation of the people."

Uribe defends US deal

President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia has defended his country’s bilateral free trade accord with Washington in the face of criticism from his colleagues, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Uribe, whose relationship with Chávez is at times prickly, said both leaders were succumbing to "little parochial and ideological disputes" in attacking trade deals with the United States. Speaking at a conference where his listeners included Andean Pact Secretary-General Allan Wagner, Uribe affirmed that he would act with "maximum prudence." He would not, he vowed, either freeze or suspend Colombia’s agreement with the United States.

Uribe asked out loud whether the free trade agreement was "an ideological aspiration or a method of eradicating poverty" and came down firmly in favor of the second. Were it an imposition by the United States, which he said it wasn’t, it would not have been "negotiated with such seriousness," he claimed. Uribe said Colombia’s deal had been negotiated within the terms of the Andean Pact, whose members had been kept informed at every stage.

Several other countries in the Pact had signed their own agreements with other blocs or countries, Uribe continued, and these included both Bolivia and Venezuela. It was just as valid for Bolivia to take advantage of its natural gas as it was for Colombia to want to enter the United States market, he claimed.