Caracas, Venezuela, January 3, 2006—“I feel like I have my first cabinet here in Venezuela,” said Bolivia’s president-elect Evo Morales half-jokingly during his visit with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez today. “You will also have a cabinet in Bolivia,” said Morales to Chavez.
Morales made a brief stop in Venezuela today, coming from Cuba and on his way to Africa, Europe, and Asia. Evo Morales, recently won Bolivia’s presidential election with 54%, the highest percentage win in recent Bolivian history. He is considered to be a close friend and ally of President Chavez, who welcomed Morales with open arms today.
The rapport between Morales and Chavez was immediately visible, during the press conference, as each kept slapping the other on the shoulder and as Chavez promised to support Morales in all of his projects, most of which sounded very similar to Chavez’s own projects when he was first elected. Among the projects Chavez promised to support was a 30-month campaign to eradicate illiteracy in Bolivia, an effort to organize a constitutional assembly, the nationalization of Bolivia’s natural gas fields, and to engage in a land reform effort, among other things.
In addition to providing strategic advice and support on these projects, Chavez promised that Venezuela would supply Bolivia with the country’s entire diesel fuel needs, 150,000 barrels per month. In exchange, Venezuela would not ask for hard cash but for an in-kind payment of Bolivia’s agricultural products.
Also, Chavez said that Venezuela would provide Bolivia with a $30 million donation for social projects, to start off his presidency. Exactly what projects the new Morales government would use the money for was not explained.
Joking about Morales’ earlier stop-over in Cuba, where Fidel Castro offered to provide 5,000 scholarships for Bolivians to study in Cuba, Chavez said Venezuela would offer 5,001 scholarships. “Evo Morales will have to study the offers and decide,” joked Chavez.
Another aspect of the agreements was for Venezuela to open a series of offices of state-owned companies in Bolivia, such as a branch of its oil company PDVSA, its main industrial bank, Banco Industrial (BIV), and its main development bank, Bandes. Chavez emphasized that with Morales, Venezuela’s project to create a conglomerate of state-owned oil companies, Petroamerica, would receive an important boost.
The details of the commitments that Chavez and Morales signed today will be worked out in the coming weeks and on January 23, the day after Morales has officially assumed Bolivia’s presidency, the two presidents will sign the formal agreements that will make the plans official.
Following the signing of the cooperation agreements, Chavez presented Morales with a replica of the sword of Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar. Morales, visibly moved by the gesture, said, “I still can’t believe that I am president. I would never have imagined or dreamed I would be president.”
Asked about what he thought of the candidacy of Ollanta Humala for president of Peru, who was present at the press conference, Morales said, “We are convinced that the indigenous people, the original people, the social movements, the victims of neo-liberalism have their candidates and I believe that in Peru compañero Ollanta is part of this movement, part of this rebellion, of this great courage of the Peruvian people. I wish him much luck and success in his campaign.” Morales added, “The time of the people has come.”
Many analysts see Ollanta Humala of Peru in a similar political line as Bolivia’s Morales and Venezuela’s Chavez, who have all staked out positions farther to the left than many of the other current left governments in Latin America.
Chavez said that the recent leftward trend in Latin America does not represent an axis of evil, as the U.S. administration likes to say, but “an axis of good, an axis of the new, of the new century.” It is the U.S. that threatens, invades, and kills, said Chavez.