Caracas, Venezuela, November 2, 2005—In an interview with Latin American print correspondents, U.S. President George Bush said that he could accept Venezuelan acquisition of a nuclear reactor, as long as it adheres to “international safeguards.” The statement came a bit as a surprise, following off the record comments by Bush administration officials over the past few weeks that the administration would not favor a rumored Venezuelan purchase of a nuclear reactor from Argentina.
Referring to a possible Venezuelan nuclear reactor, Bush said, “Maybe it makes sense. I haven’t really studied the proposal. And I look forward to — hope President Kirchner [of Argentina] shares with me the concept, the notion, the idea.” Bush and 32 leaders of the Western hemisphere are to gather this coming Friday in Mar de Plata, Argentina, for the 6th Summit of the Americas.
About a month ago an Argentinean daily, El Clarín, reported that Venezuela was exploring with Argentina the possibility of purchasing a nuclear reactor. Venezuela’s Minister of Energy and Petroleum, Rafael Ramirez, denied the reports, but did confirm Chavez’s earlier comments that Venezuela is interested in learning more about nuclear technology, especially for research and medical purposes.
Chavez has on several occasions said that Venezuela is interested in nuclear technology, solely for peaceful purposes and that it supports Iran’s nuclear program, which Chavez says is also only for peaceful purposes.
Possible Bush-Chavez Meeting at Upcoming Summit
While Bush intends to discuss Venezuela’s interest in nuclear technology with Argentina’s Kirchner, another possible bilateral meeting at the upcoming Summit of the Americas was raised today, between Bush and Chavez. Thomas Shannon, the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs, said in an interview with CNN today that while no formal meeting between the two leaders has been planned, “of course the leaders will be together at a single table and are capable and able to dialogue amongst themselves, so there is the possibility [of a Bush-Chavez encounter].”
Chavez has been very critical of Bush over the past few years, accusing the U.S. government of being imperialist and of being the primary threat to world peace. The animosity between the two governments is mutual, though. Shannon also said to CNN that, “it is difficult to imagine productive dialogue,” with Chavez and, “It is unfortunate that the Venezuelan government has chosen not to take advantage of the opportunity to work in a constructive form with its neighbors.”
Shannon went on to say, “Venezuela appears to advocate an economic model based in protectionist policies of the past that failed and allow neither prosperity nor development.”
One of the Bush administration’s main objectives for Latin America and for past Summit of the Americas gatherings has been to advance the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would increase free trade and reduce economic regulation. Originally the FTAA was supposed to be in place by 2005. However, criticisms from various countries, but especially Brazil and Venezuela, have made its implementation practically impossible. Chavez recently said that the FTAA is dead and that the summit in Argentina will serve to “bury it.”
In the place of the FTAA Venezuela has been proposing the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), which proposes to increase economic and political integration on the basis of solidarity instead of free markets. According to Chavez, his government’s efforts to create regional energy associations, such as Petrocaribe, Petroandina, and Petrosur, are all precursors to ALBA, which aim to provide oil at favorable financing terms to its neighbors.
Other related projects that fit within the Chavez government’s pursuit of regional integration is Telesur, the regional television channel that recently began 24-hour broadcasts to all of Latin America. Other projects that Chavez has proposed, but which have not been implemented yet are the Bank of the South and the University of the South.