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US free trade accord divides Latin American leaders


US free trade accord divides Latin American leaders

Tuesday • April 25, 2006

Trade relations with the United States have sparked a feud among Latin American governments, with leftist presidents in Venezuela and Bolivia accusing their counterparts in Peru and Colombia of bowing to Washington’s influence.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decided to withdraw his nation from an Andean trade bloc, which includes Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, but said he would reconsider his decision if its members abandon trade agreements with the United States.

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Monday called for an "urgent meeting" of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) "with the goal to rescue" the trade bloc and issued a plea to his ally, Chavez, to allow time for more discussions.

"I would like to beg Chavez, a comrade and brother, to withdraw" his decision, Morales told foreign journalists.

The US free trade agreements "are destroying the CAN," he said.

Chavez, a harsh critic of the United States, said on Monday he would be willing to reconsider his stance if Peru and Colombia renounced free trade accords negotiated with Washington.

"I would be prepared to reconsider Venezuela’s decision if Colombia and Peru reconsider their signature of the pacts," Chavez said.

Morales infuriated Peru with his criticism over the weekend, including a reference to Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo as a "traitor" for agreeing to the US trade deal.

Lima condemned the Bolivian president’s comments as "improper" for a head of state.

"The government of Peru profoundly laments and expresses its energetic protest" over Morales’ remarks, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The ministry said that Bolivia had a permanent observer throughout the trade talks with the United States and that Peru had introduced proposals to accommodate Bolivia’s concerns.

Colombia clinched a free trade deal with the US government in February and Peru reached an agreement last December. Ecuador also is holding talks with US officials on a free trade agreement.

Advocates say the free trade deals open up markets, create jobs and promote growth but critics say the pacts are skewed in favor of the US and leave developing countries at a disadvantage.

 source: AFP