During a whirlwind tour of a series of Latin American nations, in what the media reported as a "counter-tour" to that being carried out by US President George Bush at the same time, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez signed a number of agreements that extend his country's push to integrate the region's economies. Via the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), promoted in alliance with socialist Cuba, Venezuela is signing a large number of agreements that aim to promote pro-people development based on cooperation rather than competition, in order to break foreign economic domination of the continent, predominantly by US capital.
Originally consisting of a series of far-reaching cooperative agreements between Venezuela and Cuba, Bolivia was integrated into ALBA following the election of left-wing indigenous President Evo Morales in December 2005. Nicaragua, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda have all joined this year. Ecuador has expressed its intention to join.
Even before these new agreements, many commentators had noted that Venezuela's assistance to other Latin American nations far exceeds that of the much wealthier United States. The recent disaster caused by flooding in eastern Bolivia is a case in point. Venezuela sent over US$15 million worth of aid — 10 times the amount offered by the US.
Venezuelanalysis.com reported on March 11, that while in Argentina, where he addressed a 40,000-strong anti-Bush rally, Chavez signed 11 bilateral agreements with Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner, on top of 17 signed the previous month. The most significant of these is to form the Bank of the South (Bancosur), which will be funded via the international reserves of participating countries and will help fund development projects in the region. Bancosur aims to be an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and provide credit to countries in the region on non-exploitative terms. The IMF ties its loans to the implementation of neoliberal polices, such as the privatisation of public assets. Bolivia has already agreed to be part of the project.
In a summary of the post-Argentina leg of Chavez's tour, Venezuelanalysis.com reported on March 13, that, arriving in Bolivia on March 10, Chavez signed an agreement with Morales to form the Organisation of Gas Exporting Producers of South America, which will seek to unite gas exporters in the region to advance their mutual interests.
In Nicaragua on March 11, Chavez signed an agreement to assist the country to build an oil refinery that is estimated to cost $2.5 billion and will be able to refine 150,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil per day. Venezuela also agreed to provide the impoverished Central American nation with discounted oil. Nicaragua agreed to join the Venezuelan-initiated continent-wide television station Telesur, and to join Bancosur when it is financially capable of doing so.
In Jamaica on March 12, Chavez signed a number of agreements, including one to form a joint venture between the two countries' state-owned oil industries to facilitate Venezuela oil exports to the Caribbean nation on preferential terms. Venezuela also agreed to provide credit for various infrastructure projects, including the construction of a freeway, a sports centre and the renovation of a cultural centre. Prensa Latina reported on March 12 that Chavez invited Jamaica to join ALBA. Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson thanked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for "his concern about the poor and the dispossessed".
In Haiti on March 13, Chavez announced the signing of a variety of cooperation agreements between Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba, including setting up a $1 billion fund that will be used for the purchase of equipment to construct housing and support Cuban medical personnel in Haiti. Venezuela will also double the daily provision of discounted oil and assist in the construction of four power plants. According to Venezuelanalysis.com, Haitian foreign minister Jean Renald Clerisme praised ALBA, saying: "For us South-South collaboration is many times more important than North-South cooperation because with South-South collaboration we have a group of countries that have the same problems and treat each other as brothers."