Saturday, December 27, 2008

Venezuela’s Chávez Participates in Historic Regional “Mega Summit” in Brazil

December 18th 2008, by Erik Sperling -

photo: Venezuela's Chavez hugs Cuba's Raul Castro while Bolivia's Morales, Brazil's Lula, and Chile's Bachelet look on. (Efraín González/PP)

Carora, December 18, 2008 ( Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez participated in the two day "mega summit" in Brazil that included four meetings of regional organizations, joining leaders from 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations, which aim to confront the world financial crisis with increased regional economic and political integration.

The countries faulted the wealthy nations for causing the world financial crisis and agreed to remain united in demanding a new international financial structure that guarantees democracy and transparency. In the summit's final declaration, the countries agreed to study the creation of a regional currency, a proposal made by Chavez and other member countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas trade bloc (ALBA).

The summit included the first Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development, as well as meetings of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), and the Grupo del Rio, a policy-coordinating organization comprised of 23 countries in the region.

Chavez highlighted the historic nature of the gathering in Costa do Sauípe, which included Cuba's official entrance in the Grupo de Rio, as well as a special statement from the full 33 member summit demanding the United States government end its economic blockade against the island, implemented nearly five decades ago.

"What makes this summit historic is that, for the first time, it has been with the necessary presence of Cuba," said Chavez. "Cuba returned where it should have always been."

The United States and Canada were notably not invited to the summit convened by Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, which to Chavez signified "the start of a new era... the United States doesn't rule here anymore."

Also absent were the presidents of Colombia, El Salvador, and Peru, three of the region's top U.S. allies.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that the summit indicated the end of "scared, puppet governments, who had to ask permission to make sovereign decisions."

The nations in attendance, including some US allies, such as Mexico, agreed to work to form an organization excluding the economic giant to the north.

"We hope to celebrate the bicentennial of the anniversary of our countries with a real regional organization," said Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

On the first day of the summit, the 12 members of Unasur, which includes Venezuela, agreed to create a joint defense council.

The approval of the defense council, which was not expected to happen on Tuesday, will help integrate defense ministers and armed forces of the participating nations, improving confidence between nations, and allowing for joint military training and manufacturing of weaponry, according to Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. He assured, however, it would not be a "traditional military alliance."

The body also approved the creation of the South American Health Council, which will unite ministers of the area with the goal of creating regional health programs jointly financed by the organization.

Earlier in the day, the Mercosur meeting was held, but without the presence of Venezuelan President Chavez, who arrived late due to scheduling issues. Despite delays in the approval of Venezuela`s full membership, which awaits congressional approval from Paraguay and Brazil, Chavez said that his country already feels like part of the trade bloc.

"We are Mercosur," he declared.

In his speech to the full summit, Chavez proposed the creation of a regional fund, suggesting that each nation contribute one percent of their reserves, which together total US$ 500 billion.

Chavez said the fund would include a joint currency, possibly called Sucre or Pacha, as well as a fund for development projects.

"Only through this system, our system, can we have a say in the world," Chavez said in his speech, in which he asked for "concrete results" from the summit, which agreed to study the proposal in its final declaration.

Chavez denied any struggle over regional leadership with Brazil's popular president, Lula. "They ask me if Chavez and Lula are jealous. I tell them they can keep wasting their time," Chavez said, while Lula chuckled.

Lula later reflected on Chavez's role as a pioneer of the progressive changes in the region.

"In eight years there has been an extraordinary change in Latin America. There was a time that Chavez was alone. Who would have imagined Evo Morales as president of Bolivia ten years ago, or a bishop of Liberation Theology as the president of Paraguay? This [summit] is thanks to the change in the ideological profile in Latin America," he concluded.