Caracas, Venezuela, November 4, 2005—The 4th Summit of the Americas, which begins today in Mar del Plata, Argentina, will serve to bury the U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), says Venezuela’s President Chavez. “I believe we came here to bury the FTAA. I brought my shovel to join in the burial,” said Chavez to the press upon his arrival in Argentina.
“We are determined to defeat neo-liberalism,” said Chavez, explaining that the FTAA was conceived as a means for implanting neo-liberalism throughout the continent. Accoridng to neo-liberalism, countries are best off if the state interferes as little as possible in economic processes. It has led to the lowering of trade barriers, deregulation of worker and environmental protection measures, reduced state spending, and privatization of state-owned companies.
According to Chavez, neo-liberalism has, “done us much harm.” In the 20 years of neo-liberalism’s implementation in Latin America, “what it has done is to increase poverty and misery in Latin America,” said Chavez.
Many observers expect a sort of showdown between Chavez and U.S. President Bush, as both will be lobbying representatives of the other countries for their proposal. While Bush continues to hope that the FTAA will gain support at the summit, Chavez is proposing ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, in its Spanish acronym, which is supposed to promote regional integration on the basis of solidarity instead of free trade.
U.S. officials have tried to play down the possible confrontation between Bush and Chavez. “This summit is not about Hugo Chávez,” said National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on Wednesday. “We’re concerned about… the status of democracy” within Chávez’ Venezuela, he added.
Before the Summit’s opening, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, said that the summit is not about the FTAA and that the FTAA issue was causing problems for the summit’s closing declaration.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Ali Rodriguez, said this morning that it was the U.S. government’s fault that no consensus had been reached on the final declaration because the U.S. is insisting that the FTAA be mentioned in the declaration. “Two positions are facing each other: those who want to support integration on the basis of competition and the other that wants to promote integration on the basis of economic complementarity, cooperation, solidarity, and respect for sovereignty,” said Rodriguez.
Also, reports emerged that the U.S. wanted to mention that there are 98 million people in Latin America living with less than one dollar per day. Venezuela insisted that the document should also mention the over 37 million poor in the U.S.
As has become customary at Latin American summits, Venezuela is presenting a wide range of proposals, such as a campaign to eradicate illiteracy in Latin America, the training of 200,000 doctors in the next ten years, who would dedicate themselves to treating the poor of the continent, the construction of large factories for the production of generic medicines, to provide free medicine to the poor, and the creation of a Bank of the South.
Protests Greet Bush in Argentina, Chavez Speaks at Counter-Summit
Before heading to the opening of the 4th Summit of the Americas, Chavez gave a speech at a “counter-summit,” the 3rd Peoples’ Summit, where he reiterated his opposition to the FTAA and his belief that the FTAA was dead. Chavez also renewed his call for socialism, saying, “the construction of socialism is for us reason to live, an ideological and political impulse … it is about saving life on this planet.” Chavez added that he will present the conclusions of the Peoples’ Summit to the Summit of the Americas.
Participants in the Peoples’ Summit included soccer star Diego Maradonna, Nobel laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez, among other left intellectuals and artists of Latin America.
Later, once the Summit of the Americas began at 4pm, protests, which included a wide variety of labor unions and left groups in the streets of Mar del Plata, turned violent as protestors and police clashed.