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South American Leaders Gather; Seek to Establish New Power Bloc


By Richard Walker

Latin America’s new populist-nationalist leaders believe they can create a United States of Latin America that will lead to the rise of an economic power block to rival the neo-liberal trade policies of the European Union, China and the United States.

That was just one of the ambitious goals vocalized during a two-day summit conference in Bolivia in December attended by the leaders of 12 Latin American nations, including Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Nicaragua. Except for the wire services, the téte-a-téte received virtually no press in the United States among the mainstream media.

In a fiery speech, Evo Morales, the national socialist president of Bolivia, said the leftward trend on the continent was unparalleled, and it would banish a history of subjugation and injustice.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva agreed, adding that the time for integration has come and that South America, if not all of Latin America, could one day see a unity parliament sitting in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. South America remained one of the last regions of the planet that had not fully asserted itself politically through mutual cooperation, and now is the time to change that, he said.

Most of the two-day conference, which was held in Cochabamba, was devoted to trade issues, as well as the issue of dollarization, where the U.S. dollar is forced on a country supplanting its domestic currency. Each of the leaders present had, at one time or other, been critical of the dollarization, especially where it is tied to free trade agreements.

In the opening day of the conference, there was unanimous agreement that economic unity was an important element of the way forward in Latin America. That was a central feature in an address given by the Peruvian President Alan Garcia. Garcia stressed the rarely publicized fact that South America collectively produces more than China. However, he felt that China benefits from having its own currency, whereas Latin America has been tied to the U.S. dollar and is therefore vulnerable to American political and financial pressures.

That issue was seized upon by recently elected President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, who was trained as an economist in the United States. Correa has vowed not to sign a free trade agreement with the United States. Instead, he said he would seek to have extended trade preferences under a drug eradication agreement. As for the U.S. dollar, to which his country has been tied, he told the other leaders he would maintain it as Ecuador’s currency for the next four years, and then it is likely he will transition out of it. Correa also expressed

dissatisfaction with the free trade agreements Peru and Colombia have with the United States, pointing out that such agreements could cause Ecuador “incalculable” harm.

Center stage at the conference was George Bush’s nemesis in Latin America, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. The White House sees Chavez as the lighting rod for the so-called “pink tide revolution” throughout South America and the catalyst for anti-U.S. government feelings that are so pervasive in the region.

In one of his trade-mark speeches, Chavez joked that the region needs “political Viagra,” because too many Latin American nations were making decisions “without the power to execute them.” In his opinion, it was time to rid the region of large bureaucracies and “these pyramids of paper.”

In part of his speech, Chavez attacked U.S. plans for free market prescriptions in Latin America and claimed that the leftward movement across the continent had effectively crushed a plan initiated a decade ago by Washington to put in place a hemispheric free trade agreement.

Chavez used humor in his speech and at one point had his audience laughing when he told them nations had to be careful in their dealings with Washington because those that signed free trade agreements were later “flooded with chickens’ hind quarters.”

He made sure his audience was reminded of his generosity, especially his latest offer to help Ecuador’s economy by supplying it with oil. In return, all Ecuador would have to do would be to pay for refining the oil. In the past couple of years Chavez has entered into similar agreements with neighbors, shrewdly using his country’s oil surplus to enhance his reputation in the region and beyond. Venezuela is the world fifth largest producer of oil—a fact that irritates Washington because oil is not just about wealth but also about power and influence.

On the second day of the conference, Peruvian leader Rafael Correa received applause when he called for a “land and river” trade route, linking Brazil’s Amazon forest region with Ecuador’s Pacific coastline. He claimed it would provide the region with an alternative to the Panama Canal.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet tried to sound a note of moderation, pointing out that globalization was not all bad, as demonstrated by her country’s trade agreement with the United States. She admitted, however, that globalization also has an ugly and “potentially destructive” side.

Before the end of the summit, Brazilian President da Silva, a former metal worker, told his fellow leaders that they would need patience to resolve many of the “delicate” issues they had discussed.

“The solutions are difficult. We’re not just simple workers talking about a strike at the factory,” he warned. The meeting of South America’s top officials received almost no press in the United States, despite the issues discussed that the gathering, leading some people to believe this was certainly intentional.

In a recent speech to anti-globalist activists, MIT linguist and scholar Noam Chomsky has this to say about the conference: “It was a very important meeting. One index of its importance is that it was unreported, virtually unreported apart from the wire services.”

(Issue # 1 & 2, January 1 & 8, 2007)

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Updated January 20, 2007