VENEZUELA: Deepening Latin American integration

Issue 

Stuart Munckton

In a step forward for the goal promoted by Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez of increasing the economic integration of Latin American countries, Venezuela and Bolivia have signed another round of important economic agreements.

A May 31 Venezuelan Presidential Press Office statement reported that thousands of Bolivians turned out to welcome Chavez during his visit to sign the agreements, which strengthen the alliance between the revolutionary Venezuelan government and the new left-wing government of Evo Morales in Bolivia. Venezuelanalysis.com reported on May 29 that Chavez used the opportunity to accuse Washington of planning a military coup against Morales, similar to the failed US-backed coup against Chavez in 2002.

The agreements, which cover education, hydrocarbons, petrochemicals, finance, communications, the environment, mining, security, defence, science and technology, are part of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia promote ALBA as an alternative to the US push for "free trade agreements" that open the continent up to greater exploitation by US corporations.

Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA signed significant agreements with the Bolivian state-owned energy firm YPFB. YPFB has been run down under previous neoliberal governments, but is set to play a much bigger role after Morales announced the nationalisation of Bolivia's formidable gas reserves on May 1. As well as providing much-needed training and technical assistance, PDVSA has signed agreements with YPFB to build two gas processing plants in Bolivia and to assist YPFB to explore and exploit gas and oil. Venezuelanalysis.com reported that total Venezuelan investments in Bolivia's oil and gas industry will total US$1.5 billion. Venezuela will also guarantee Bolivia 200,000 barrels of oil per day at preferential prices.

Venezuela also agreed to provide US$100 million in credit to small- and medium-sized Bolivian producers. Chavez proposed the creation of an Andean Bolivarian Confederation as a mechanism to deepen political, economical, social and military integration. Venezuela also donated computers to help Bolivian schools.

Venezuelanalysis.com reported on May 31 that the previous day Chavez had signed a series of economic agreements with Ecuador's President Alfredo Palacio, agreeing to help construct a new oil refinery and expand an existing one. The deal will help Ecuador refine an extra 100,000 barrels of oil per day, worth around $350 million per year. Venezuela also made a deal to sell liquefied gas directly to the Ecuadorean government to market, saving consumers up to 20% by cutting out brokers.

According to the Presidential Press Office, "Apart from the economic benefits embodied by the endorsed agreements, it is expected that they contribute to these countries' community development and to strengthen the bonds between Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador".

In response to Ecuador's recent decision to concede to the key demand of a powerful mass movement to annul a contract with US oil corporation Occidental Petroluem, Chavez said: "Allow me to congratulate you, president, for the decisions you have been taking to recover the strategic management of the natural resources of Ecuador."

A June 6 statement from the Venezuelan embassy in Ecuador reported that more than 1200 low-income Ecuadorians have benefited from Mission Miracle, the social program initiated by the Venezuelan government that flies poor people from around the region to Venezuela and Cuba to receive eye surgery, all free of charge. Ecuador was the first country to become involved when the mission was internationalised.

Another example of the Chavez government's attempt to push integration on a social as well as economic level is the Latin American School of Medicine, which is scheduled to open in October, according to a May 30 Vive TV report. Located in Venezuela's Bolivar state, the school, which aims to teach doctors integrated community medicine, will train 1500 students from across Latin America — 1000 from Bolivia. The students are selected by each country's rural and community organisations and aims to be a "university for the popular movements", according to the report.

The Vive TV report also mentioned that in September, Venezuela will open the Latin American Agro-ecology "Paulo Freire" Institute for rural, indigenous and Afro-descendant studies. The school aims to study the indigenous and landless peasant movements from across the continent and will train up to 2000 militants selected from Latin American popular organisations.

From Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2006.
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