Our principle, announced Ramón Rosales (Venezuela’s Minister of Production and Commerce) is “as much market as possible, and as much state as necessary.” What that statement, released at the September 2003 WTO meeting in Cancun, means in terms of so-called international trade agreements can only be understood in the context of what Venezuela was arguing at Cancun.
Challenging the effects of “free trade” on human development, calling for an end to an unjust economic order, for the prioritizing of the fight against poverty and social exclusion, for putting human rights before corporate rights, the Venezuelan position called for a re-emphasis upon “the role of public policy as a tool without which it is impossible to achieve the stated goal of equitable, democratic, and environmentally sustainable development.
In short, it was a position which directly rejects neo-liberalism and the international institutions intended to enforce it. And, that is precisely the stance taken by the government of Hugo Chavez for the discussions of FTAA. In a statement released in April to delegations participating in the FTAA Trade Negotiations Committee (and oriented to gaining support throughout the continent), Venezuela declared that “the FTAA is not merely a trade agreement”; it establishes “a supranational legal and institutional system that will eventually prevail over the current system in our country.” Precisely because of the implications of FTAA for national sovereignty, Venezuela announced that any FTAA agreement would be the subject of a national referendum. Indeed, it pointed out that Article 73 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela requires a referendum: “International treaties, conventions, and agreements that could compromise national sovereignty or transfer power to supranationalentities (…) shall be submitted to referendum.
In calling for the people to decide, the Venezuelan government’s own position would be clear. Ever since the defeated coup of 11 April 2002 and the subsequent opposition sabotage that has produced a crisis, the document noted, “Venezuela has a new appreciation of the extraordinary importance of the need for governments to be able to draw on a wide spectrum of public policies to respond to crises (whether environmental, political, or economic), as well as to be able to tackle the challenges and demands associated with fair, sustainable development.” The proposal for FTAA would prevent this. Indeed, the government argued, “The recent sabotage of PDVSA, the national oil industry, is a pathetic example of everything stated in this document.”
Widespread democratic involvement, though, should not be limited to a vote at the end. Precisely because of the vast implications of FTAA, Venezuela declared in its statement to the Trade Negotiations Committee, “we cannot continue to negotiate as if these were just some trade negotiations in which only experts and specialists in the different areas of commercial and international law need participate. Democratic negotiations need to include in an effective manner all sectors of the population continent-wide because every sector will be affected to some extent by the agreements being negotiated.
And, what of those popular sectors in Venezuela at this point? Although trade unions and popular sectors have indicated that they oppose FTAA and all it stands for, the priority is support for the government in its resolve— support in the face of an opposition aided by the US government and prepared again to do everything possible to remove the Chavez government. The struggle against international capital and its goals at this point in Venezuela is a struggle to maintain and deepen the Bolivarian Revolution.