The Daily Journal, Caracas, 28 October 2005
It’s US or us for Andean Pact partners says Venezuelan Trade Minister
By Jeremy Morgan
Daily Journal Staff
An apparently chance remark by a junior trade minister appears to have put Foreign Minister Alí Rodríguez Araque on something of a spot.
Gustavo Márquez, Minister of State for Integration and Foreign Trade, had said that Venezuela would take another look at Latin American countries that joined the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Asked to comment, Rodríguez Araque’s response was notably cautious, and his statement was hardly an endorsement of his junior colleague’s evidently off-the-cuff views.
“One can’t cross the river before you get there,” he said in a barely disguised rebuke of Márquez, “The results and the implications of this have to be seen before issuing whatever comment on this subject.”
And that was all that the foreign minister had to say. There’s been no further word from Márquez, and the matter hasn’t been raised again. But that, of course, hasn’t stopped the speculation.
Márquez’ statement was apparently aimed at Venezuela’s partners in the Andean Pact, some of whom are deemed to be at risk of being lured into the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) formed by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Washington is said to have its eye on Bolivia signing up at the FTA. The other members of the Pact are Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.
Worse still from President Hugo Chávez’ point of view is the prospect of Andean countries alternatively deciding to become members of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).
This is another regional blueprint, again largely orchestrated by the United States, to create a free trade zone stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Chávez sees this as another big stick in what he perceives as Washington’s plot to establish dominion over the continent.
Chávez has proposed an alternative - the Bolivarian Alternative for America (ALBA), as a counter-weight against either of the US-backed alliances, both of which pointedly exclude Cuba as long as Fidel Castro remains in power. ALBA, not surprisingly, would let in the Cubans, regardless of Castro.
Whether or not the United States would be allowed to join ALBA is a moot point - just as is the question of whether Washington, particularly under the Bush Administration, would want to have anything to do with an organization created at the behest of Chávez, its ultimate black sheep in Latin America.
As to the Andean Pact, Chávez has shown a clear preference for Venezuela joining up with Mercosur, the Southern Cone common market made up of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay.
The Andean Pact carries a great deal less clout than the much more economically powerful Mercosur. Chávez sees Venezuela as a natural player with the big boys on the continent.
Venezuela recently gained associate status with Mercosur, although diplomatic sources say officials are still working on the fine print of the deal.
Chávez has argued that the natural next step towards regional integration would be for the Andean Pact to recognize reality and merge with Mercosur.
This would pave the way for an eventual Grand Pact of Latin American countries, possibly with the small Central American republics taking part. Too. With that, the line would be held against Washington’s so-called “imperialist” aspirations, as Chávez sees them, either in Panama or the Mexican border.