Uruguay and Venezuela: Need to Strengthen Mercosur

Uruguay's President Tabaré Vazquez and Venezuela's President Chavez met in Caracas yesterday and today, to sign numerous cooperation agreements and expressed their disapproval of free trade agreements with the U.S.

Caracas, Venezuela, March 14, 2006—Venezuelan President Chávez and Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez signed a series of agreements and conventions in the Venezuelan capital today, as part of a three-day visit by the Uruguayan President. During their common press conference, both Presidents stressed the need to transform and strengthen Mercosur, the Common Market of the South (encompassing Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela).

According to Chávez, Mercosur should give a good example on the way to Latin American integration and recognize the “asymmetries” between the Latin American economies. “Mercosur is still affected by the negative sides of capitalism. Mercosur will either transform itself, or it will be on the same path as the CAN, the Community of Andean Nations, a project wounded to death,” according to the Venezuelan leader.  

Chávez stressed his disapproval about the recently signed free trade agreement between Colombia and the USA, in Spanish the TLC. “I call those trade agreements little FTAAs,” Chávez said, referring to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). “With all respect to Colombia, I see free trade as a crime, as an illusion. Colombia will feel the negative impacts of it as well. The country will be invaded by imports of cheap rice and corn from the USA. Venezuela has been against the FTAA from the beginning. The USA has been pressuring smaller countries to join the FTAA. Since it has become clear in Mar del Plata last year that the USA would not succeed in pushing through the FTAA, the USA has changed its tactics and is now opting for smaller free trade agreements, such as the TLCs [bilateral free trade agreements].” 

President Tabaré made it equally clear that his country is not interested in free trade agreements either. “I will say it very clear: my government has no interest in signing free trade agreements with the USA. We do want to sell more of our products to the USA, to Europe and to Arabic countries.” 

During their press conference, President Chávez, made it clear that Uruguay would be welcome to join the planned gas pipeline, which should transport gas over 7,000 kilometers from Venezuela through Brazil to Argentina. “Venezuela has the world’s eighth biggest gas reserves,” according to Chávez. Bolivia even has the biggest gas reserves in the world. In that light, we should connect Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay to the gas pipeline as well.” 

According to Chávez, Latin America finds itself in a very special moment of time. “For the integration of Latin America, it is now or never. This is not something rhetorical, I really feel that the circumstances for Latin American unity have never been better during the last 200 years than now.” 

According to the Venezuelan President, Latin America should use its natural resources better to achieve regional sovereignty. “Venezuela has the biggest oil reserves in the world and together with Bolivia we have the biggest gas reserves. Apart from that, we have the biggest water reserves. Last night, I was talking with Tabaré about the great rivers we have in Latin America. We could connect these rivers, the Orinoco, the Amazon and the Rio Plata and use them as main arteries for Latin America.” 

Tabaré Vázquez and Chávez seemed to get on very well personally. “There are days, of which you know already before they have ended, that they will be unforgettable,” said Chávez. “This is one of these days.” Tabaré countered by saying that, “Only with friends you can feel really at home,” and in Caracas he “felt at home.” Vázquez: “I didn’t come here for political tourism, I came here to work.”

In the morning hours, Tabaré and Chávez visited the endogenous development nucleus Fabricio Ojeda, as part of the Mision Barrio Adentro, in Catia. In this center for local development, the Uruguayan President was shown local health and employment projects in this workers’ neighborhood in Western Caracas.  

Later that day, various Ministers signed 12 agreements and contracts between the two countries, mainly in the fields of technology cooperation, satellite use, software production, oil refining, housing, energy, and health.  

Since Tabaré took office in March 2005, the two countries have signed various agreements in the field of energy and agricultural cooperation. Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA will help with increasing the production capacity of oil refinery La Teja in Uruguay to about 50,000 barrels a day. Since June last year, Venezuela has already sent roughly seven million barrels of crude oil to Uruguay, in exchange for Uruguayan products such as cattle, software, and housing, according to President Chávez during the press conference. The two countries cooperate in the continent-wide Telesur TV channel as well.