Venezuela Attends MERCOSUR Summit, Promotes Integration with Uruguay and Argentina
By James Suggett
December 10, 2009 - venezuelanalysis.com
On a two-day diplomatic trip this week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attended the 38th ordinary summit of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) in Uruguay, held his first diplomatic meeting with Uruguayan President-Elect Jose Mujica, and visited Argentina to review bilateral economic and political accords.
At the MERCOSUR summit, Chavez said that the multilateral trade organization should also be a political alliance in order to increase the collective power and stability of the countries on the continent.
"If in one of our countries there is a coup, for example in Venezuela... are Bolivia and Brazil going to recognize that coup?" Chavez asked.
Similarly, Brazilian President Lula da Silva said the trade bloc should "transcend the merely commercial, and achieve the betterment of civil society," and "foment a social and participatory consensus in which the social institutions and social movements of our region give form to the collective birth of an efficient work team."
Other items on the agenda were relations between MERCOSUR and the European Union and the establishment of a system of payments among member nations.
The bloc's current members are Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Venezuela was admitted as an associate in 2005, but still needs the approval of the Paraguayan and Brazilian parliaments to become a full member. Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia are also associates and sent representatives to Tuesday's summit.
Brazil's parliament has held several debates on Venezuela's entrance into MERCOSUR but repeatedly postponed a final vote, most recently on Wednesday. It is expected to hold its next debate on the issue next Tuesday. Lula is a strong advocate of Venezuela's integration into the bloc.
During Tuesday's summit, Chavez said, "Whether or not we are a full member of MERCOSUR, as associates we will continue pushing hard for integration, for union, union, union."
A highlight of the summit was a joint declaration signed by the four member nations as well as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador asserting the bloc's "total and complete non-recognition" of the November 29th Honduran presidential election.
The election was held "in an environment of unconstitutionality, illegitimacy, and illegality" amidst "grave violations of human rights and fundamental liberties of the Honduran people," according to the document read aloud by Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez at the summit.
On June 28th, Honduran military officials ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. In the elections organized by the coup regime, abstention was estimated at more than 65% amidst a boycott by the organized resistance to the coup, and right wing National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo, a coup supporter, was elected president.
"In light of the non-restitution of President Jose Manuel Zelaya to the charge for which he was democratically elected by the Honduran people, [MERCOSUR] manifests its total and complete non-recognition of the elections carried out last November 29th by the de facto government," the MERCOSUR document stated.
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo said the recent Bolivian and Uruguayan presidential elections make the Honduras look like "democracy in a state of coma." Last Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales was re-elected to a second term, and a week before that, Uruguayans elected left-wing candidate Jose "Pepe" Mujica to succeed President Vasquez.
Chavez and Mujica Improve Bilateral Relations
"I am sure that with Pepe Mujica we are going to revive these [bilateral] relations in order to put our soul, skin, bones, and whole lives into lifting up our peoples," said President Chavez upon meeting with Mujica, who will be sworn in as president in March.
Trade between Uruguay and Venezuela increased significantly after Chavez and Vasquez signed dozens of bilateral accords in 2005. The two countries established a joint investment fund, and Venezuela agreed to sell Uruguay discounted oil on credit that could be repaid in goods and services over 15 years with 2% interest. However, bilateral relations declined after Vasquez declined an invitation to an energy summit hosted by Venezuela in 2007.
Mujica expressed his gratitude for Venezuela's past generosity. "Who in the world has lent us money at a rate of two percent? Nobody. Only Venezuela," said the president-elect.
The two leaders visited a glass factory that was closed by its owners in 1999 and then re-opened years later under worker-led management with the help of a $4 million donation from the Venezuelan government.
When the factory workers expressed their appreciation for Venezuela's support, Chavez replied, "You do not have any reason to thank us. I have to thank you all, because now the workers of this company are going to help us to start one of our own."
"What I have seen here, I'm not sure what you call it, but I call it socialism," Chavez continued. "You are creating socialism from the micro level, the root," he said.
Chavez also referred to Mujica's past as a guerrilla commander in Uruguay. "I would have liked to be a soldier out in the country with that battalion that Pepe lead," he said.
Following the MERCOSUR Summit and the meeting with Mujica in Uruguay, Chavez travelled to Argentina for a quarterly meeting on bilateral relations with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez.
Chavez was accompanied by a delegation that included his ministers for foreign relations, Nicolas Maduro; agriculture, Elias Jaua; health, Carlos Rotondaro; tourism, Pedro Morejon; and trade, Eduardo Saman.
During the summit, delegations from the two countries signed deals to increase cooperation in energy production, food production, industrial development, health care, and land and water transportation infrastructure.
Among the more than a dozen new bilateral accords signed on Wednesday, Argentina agreed to ship hundreds of ambulances and medicines early next year to bolster Venezuela's health care system. Also, Venezuela granted an import license for 10,000 Argentine cars in the year 2010.
To develop the transport of goods by river, the Venezuelan company Fluvialba, which already transports fuel for MERCOSUR member nations, signed an accord with the Argentine ship repair firm Tandanor to cooperate in the construction and repair of barges, tugboats, and tankers.
Chavez finished his trip with a visit to Argentina's National Institute of Industrial Technology, which will supply Venezuela's state-owned productive sector with industrial, agricultural, and meat processing machinery.
Following the signing of accords, President Fernandez said, "I am very happy because the accords... re-affirm our integration and they include not only accords between states, but also between states and private companies, and even between private companies."