Venezuela officially joined the South American trading block, Mercosur (Common Market of the South) on Tuesday at an enthusiastic event at the Teresa Careño Theater in Caracas. Venezuela is the first country to become a full member of Mercosur since its founding in 1991. Representatives of the Venezuelan National Assembly announced yesterday that steps are now being taken towards the creation of a Mercosur Parliament, which they hope to form by this December.
The event was attended by the presidents from the now five member countries Argentina (Néstor Kirchner), Brazil (Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva), Paraguay (Nicanor Duarte), Uruguay (Tabaré Vázquez), and Venezuela (Hugo Chávez Frías), where they signed the official “Protocol for the Adhesion of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Mercosur.”
In perhaps a sign of things to come, although his country is not currently a member of Mercosur, Bolivian President Evo Morales also attended the inauguration and sat beside the other Presidents on the main stage. During his speech, Chavez stated that Mercosur is now entering into a new phase and that “sooner than later we will be in La Paz signing the incorporation of Bolivia as an official member of Mercosur.”
The Protocol establishes that except for in the case of already specified and “sensitive products,” Venezuela and the other Mercosur nations should achieve free trade by 2013. The exchange of “sensitive products” will have until 2014 to be completed. Upon signing Tuesday’s protocol, Venezuela has until 2010 to gradually adopt to Mercosur norms, for which it will have to bring its own laws in to compliance.
All of the Mercosur presidents spoke at the event, to a tone which was overwhelmingly optimistic, and in the words of Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, rooted in the past and “projecting towards the future.” Most of the presidents spoke to the event’s “historic” place in time, and Brazilian President Lula da Silva declared Mercosur to be more than a mere trading block, but the “realization of a dream for millions of Latin Americans who have, over many centuries, died believing that it is possible to achieve integration.”
During a relatively short speech, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced, “I believe that we are laying, here, today in Caracas, a fundamental corner-stone for the new freedom for the people of South America.”
The Venezuelan President also thanked the other Presidents for supporting Venezuela’s entry in to the trading block. “If you did not represent who you represent,” he said, “Venezuela never would have joined Mercosur.” Chavez remembered first suggesting Venezuela’s wishes to enter in to the trading block 7 years ago to the then Mercosur President from Paraguay. “How many things have happened in 7 years”, he continued. “You have to be profoundly optimistic.”
Chavez supported the call from current Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte for a ‘common project’ and Lula’s idea for a ‘mega-state’ or a union of South American republics. Chavez also suggested a plan (like the Great Southern Gas Pipeline) for a railroad to connect Buenos Aires and Caracas.
Chavez highlighted the importance of Venezuela’s entrance in to Mercosur, on the night before the 195th celebration of Venezuela’s Independence. A timely event, considering the dream of South American unity held by Venezuela’s forefather, Simon Bolivar.
Mercosur was formed on March 26, 1991 through the treaty of Asuncion signed between the four founding nations. According to the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Relations, the principal objective of the trading block was to “expand the dimensions of their national markets, through integration, as a fundamental condition in order to accelerate the processes of economic development with social justice.”
But as President Chavez verified on Wednesday night, the original goals were strictly neo-liberal. Economists and social activists alike have questioned the ability of the current members to be able to truly shift the trading block towards a more sustainable, socially just and equitable focus.
Nevertheless, the opening section of Tuesday night’s Protocol signed between the five presidents, declares, “The process of integration should be an instrument in order to promote integral development, confront poverty and social exclusion and based on complementarity and solidarity and cooperation.”
Plans for Mercosur Parliament
Just one day after Venezuela’s official entry in to Mercosur, representatives of the Venezuelan National Assembly announced plans yesterday for the creation of a Mercosur Parliament, which should be installed by December of this year.
According to the President for the Commission for External Politics of the National Assembly, Saúl Ortega, further discussions will continue in Cordoba, Argentina on July 19-20.
“We are taking accelerated steps for the creation of this political instance, which will be the legislative branch of Mercosur.” Announced Ortega yesterday morning. “It will be the organism of control to continue the success of this new Mercosur, as we have denominated, with the incorporation of Venezuela, and this new concept, and a resurrection of this pact, which before was evidently commercial, and now it is redimensioned in the social, in the economical, in the political and cultural.”
Venezuela-Argentina Bi-lateral Agreements
While in Caracas for Venezuela’s entrance into Mercosur, and building off of the historic ties between their two “liberators”, Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, President Chavez and Argentina’s Kirchner took advantage of the moment to strengthen their relations and sign in to affect various bi-lateral agreements.
According to the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry, under the strategic Venezuelan-Argentinean alliance, they established a commission to present a Strategic Alliance Plan within the next 60 days, in order to “guarantee the integration between the two countries” and Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We have decided to add to the agreements that we have been signing one of greater strategic range: design a Strategic High Commission in order to continue supporting what occurred to me to call the Caracas-Buenos Aires Axis, which is part of this great region, of this great South American block,” announced Chavez
Accords were also signed between the Venezuelan Housing Ministry, the Venezuelan Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, and the Argentine Ministry of Federal Planning and Public Investment, regarding the elaboration of a plan to improve the conditions of habitat for the citizens of both countries; the fulfillment of proposed objectives in the process of “exploration and exploitation of the reserves of Argentine hydrocarbons”; the quantification and certification of Venezuelan hydrocarbon reserves located in the Orinoco belt; and the exploration of “alternative ways to finance the exploration, production and industrialization of natural gas.”
Chavez and Kirchner also discussed the issuing of a joint “Bond of the South” or “Bi-national Bonds,” which could serve to support investment and economic growth in both countries.