Caracas, Venezuela, April 25, 2006—Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said, yesterday, at the request of Bolivian President Evo Morales, he would reconsider withdrawing from the Andean Community (CAN) if Colombia and Peru cancel their free trade agreements with the United States.
“I would be willing to reconsider the measure [of withdrawing] if Venezuela if Colombia and Peru reconsider their Free Trade Agreements [with the United States],” said Chavez who previously said that these agreements had killed the CAN.
Morales had previously criticized Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement, blaming it for taking away Bolivia’s soy trade. Yesterday he said that “the people’s fight isn’t through free trade.”
One of the Chavez administration’s goals has been to create an economic stronghold in Latin America independent of the US. Chavez has been one of the fiercest opponents of the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas. As Venezuela came to be put on track to becoming a full member of MERCOSUR, another South American Trade bloc, Chavez’s statements against the CAN increased.
If Venezuela withdraws, it will be a progressive process, which may take up to five years.
The goals of the Andean Community, which includes Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, are to work toward “a single market, an Andean territorial development strategy, and an Andean strategy for social cohesion.” According to the group’s website, in 1989 the group “[set] aside [its] development agenda, [and] centered [its] efforts on trade liberalization,” which resulted in a free trade agreement in the region in 1993.
Toledo defended his country’s Free Trade Agreement with the US. “I understand that there are countries that don’t need to open new markets because they have high revenues [from products such as] oil, but countries in Latin America that are oil importers are obliged to create work for their country. Each is the owner of its own destiny. No one can blackmail and impose decisions in every country,” said Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo.
He also asked for Bolivia and Venezuela to be clear about their reasons for leaving the CAN. “[Morales and Chavez] can think over their decision to distance themselves from the CAN. But if they decide to leave, they should say so clearly, without looking for excuses because this is done to evade their responsibility,” Toledo admonished.
Toledo had initially criticized Chavez´s decision to withdraw from the CAN. “I hope that Chavez can reconsider what he’s said. It’s hard for me to believe that he wants to disintegrate, to dismember the Andean Community,” he said.
Toledo’s presidency will end in the coming months. One candidate for the run-off, Ollanta Humala, who Chavez has said is the person to bring the second independence to Peru, initially had said he was sorry for Venezuela’s decision, but that each country needs to make sovereign decisions about what is best for its national interest. As of this writing, he has not commented on Chavez’s ultimatum.
Colombian President Alvero Uribe is currently in Brazil on a surprise visit looking for support in the wake of Venezuela’s announcement, reports the Venezuelan government newswire ABN.
Another trade dispute has recently sprung up between Colombia and Venezuela, as Colombia has stopped importing Venezuelan beef due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease which the Venezuelan government says has been controlled.