In stark contrast to the thumb-twiddling of
the G8 overlords, who meet on July 7-9 to decide on taking as little
action as possible on climate change and the developing global food and
fuel crises, the June 30-July 1 summit of the Common Market of South
America (Mercosur) was one more demonstration of the role being played
by Venezuela — together with other South American countries — in
charting a way out of these crises.
Held in the northern Argentinian city of San Miguel de Tucuman, the
35th summit of the presidents of Mercosur nations brought together the
leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — who are full
members of the trade bloc — along with leaders of its associate members
Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.
Venezuela, currently an associate member, is awaiting the approval
of the Brazilian and Paraguayan parliaments in order to become a full
member, while Uruguay raised the fact that Mexico, currently an
observer, was interested in becoming an associate member of the bloc.
Mercosur represents the fifth largest economic bloc in the world.
Together with the Community of Andean Nations (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador,
Colombia), these two blocs formally launched the Union of South
American Nations (Unasur) in May.
The question of the growing food crisis was high on the agenda of
the summit, with Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez warning that
“not long ago, nobody could imagine the food problem would mushroom so
swiftly, with situations that take you back to the Middle Ages and
people dying over a grain of food, or a crust of bread”.
According to the United Nations, the number of starving people in
the world could rise from 800 million to 860 million, with some 200
million affected by poverty in Latin America alone — almost 40% of the
“Mercosur is a regional group that is powerful in the production
and export of food and energy”, Argentinian foreign minister Jorge
Taiana said. South America is the largest food producer in the world,
and is responsible for 15% of world oil production. “It’s a good moment
to reinforce our will to work to see how we can position Mercosur more
Fernandez added that “the situation of food and energy prices
presents the region with an enormous opportunity if we can take
advantage of it with solidarity and regional integration”.
Leading the charge, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proposed that Mercosur implement a “petro-food” strategy.
Outlining one of his proposals, Chavez stated: “As long as the
price [of oil] is above 100 dollars, we propose setting up a fund. For
each barrel of oil that Venezuela exports, we propose donating US$1 to
a fund. That is $920 million a year.”
He called this “a modest figure for the magnitude of the task that
lies before us, but we are willing to do this right now as long as
there is a group of countries that will unite in a plan to produce
foods in emergency”.
Chavez stated “we’re not trying to convert food into fuel but the
reverse: petroleum into food” — a direct attack on what he called US
President George Bush’s “crazy plan to use foodstuffs to produce
biofuels”. Recently leaked documents from the World Bank suggest that
this move to turn food into fuel is responsible for 75% of the price
increases in key agricultural products.
In order to facilitate this proposal, Chavez called on the other
government to move forward with the project of Petrosur, which seeks to
unite regional oil companies and which he likened to a South American
Chavez also vowed to push forward with an “axis of growth” that
would link up Brazilian industry, Argentinian agriculture and
Venezuelan energy. The presidents of these three countries held a
trilateral meeting where they discussed this proposal.
Chavez also expressed interest in Argentina and Brazil’s plan to
move away from trading in US dollars and towards using national
currencies, decreasing their economies dependency on the US dollar.
Looking at the broader economic picture, Fernandez laid the blame
for rise food prices at the feet of financial speculators, drawing a
connection between these price rises and growing world financial
crisis. “When banks start to flounder, when no bank is reliable,
speculative movements start in the food sector. The ‘casino’ economy,
speculation, which was circumscribed to the financial realm, are now
starting to move on to the world of foodstuffs.”
In recent times, the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and
Argentina have faced stiff resistance from large agricultural
producers, as each has attempted, to varying extents, to attack the
interests of these important economic sectors.
Also in the summit’s firing line was the European Union (EU)
decision in June to allow the detention of irregular immigrants for up
to 18 months before deportation. Many South Americans have migrated to
Europe in search of a livelihood and in order to send money back to
help their families survive as a result of the onslaught of neoliberal
policies in the region.
The EU want to build a “wall in the Atlantic”, Chavez said.
“Civilized Europe — I say that ironically — has legalised barbarism”,
he added, calling for a strong united campaign “in defense of the
dignity of our people”.
Referring to the recent US decision to reactivate its Fourth Fleet
in Latin American waters, Chavez asked the question “what reason could
the [US] have for sending a naval fleet so powerful to a region in
“I have no doubt that what we are dealing with is a threat. They
want control over the Orinoco [where huge Venezuelan oilfields are
located], over the Amazon and over the Parana. We need to be prepared
to see what it is they want to do here.”
In his intervention, Bolivian President Evo Morales raised his support for the creation of a Security Council of Latin America.
From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #758 16 July 2008.