Caracas, Venezuela, July 19, 2006—Venezuela is being granted observer member status in the Arab League, which is also expected to support Venezuela’s bid for a UN Security Council seat. These two announcements coincide with the second Arab-South American Summit, which is took place this week in Caracas.
Under the shadow of an escalating war in the Middle East, the second Arab-South American Summit got underway this week in Caracas. Building on the first ever meeting a year ago in Brazil, delegations from fifteen Arab countries and twelve South American nations are gathering for two days to assess the progress of political, economics, cultural, environmental, and technological agreements reached in 2005. In addition, leaders attending this week’s summit will undoubtedly focus attention on the host country’s admission into the Arab league, the UN Security Council bids of Venezuela and Egypt, and the current crisis engulfing the Middle East.
In the first order of business, Venezuela was granted observer status in the Arab league. Membership will be formalized in September, when Venezuela joins its neighbor Brazil and several OPEC partners in the 22-nation group. More than 10 million people of Arab descent live in South America, most of them in Brazil.
President Chavez also secured Arab League support for Venezuela’s UN Security Council bid. “We expect 22 countries to support the (Venezuela) candidacy.” Stated Ahmed Benhelli, Secretary General of the Arab League of Nations. With Arab League assistance, Foreign Affairs Minister Alí Rodríguez Araque on Tuesday guaranteed Venezuela has obtained more than the 128 votes necessary to win a non-permanent seat at the Security Council, as a number of international organizations have already agreed to support Caracas, including the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) and the Common Market of the South (Mercosur). In return for Arab league backing, Egypt is seeking South American support in its Security Council bid.
This development comes on the heels of President Chavez’s harsh condemnation of recent Israeli attacks against Lebanon. On Sunday President Chavez bashed the “elite” in Israel, whom he accused of being aggressive at the behest of the United States. The incursions into Lebanon and Gaza were labeled “madness” by the President, as he went on to note Israel has nuclear weapons of mass destruction, “but nobody says anything because behind it is the empire” – a reference to the Bush Administration.
The official position of the Venezuelan government was released the day before when the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a press release that stated, “The Bush Administration veto to impede the consideration of this crisis within the framework of the U.N. Security Council is unacceptable. The hegemony exercised over this body is the clearest denial of said organization as a space for reasonable settlement of conflicts. This is the reason why our country keeps firmly upholding the necessity of democratizing this body, and therefore endeavors for a seat on the Security Council.”
The Foreign Ministry press release also stated, “The indiscriminate use of force has also brought about many casualties and has wounded several, among the civil population, including innocent children and women. No pretext can justify such aggressions.”
The Venezuelan government’s rebuke prompted Israel to recall the economic council at their embassy in Caracas for what it described as, “talks with a senior official at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.” According to Israeli Foreign Ministry Deputy General Director for Latin American Affairs, Doris Shavit, the Israeli government is amazed at the “lack of balance” in President Chavez Frias’ remarks. “They totally ignore events that led to escalation in the region and the role of Hamas and Hezbollah in making the situation worse,” said Shavit.
While surprising to Israel, the comments of President Chavez and the pro-Palestine remarks contained in Sunday’s press release are not a departure from the “Declaration of Brasslia” established at the conclusion of the first Arab-South American Summit. In 2005 the 33 nations gathered in Brazil released a joint statement, not only calling for close ties between South America and the Arab world, but also criticizing what the group viewed as Israeli and US aggression against Palestinians.
In light of the recent bombing of Lebanon, it is likely a similar declaration will emanate from this weeks summit. But the new Arab-South American alliance is much more than a coalition of states politically opposed to Israeli and US foreign policy. Bilateral trade between South America and the Arab world reached $10 billion last year.
Latin America – Arab Trade Expected to Increase
Arab leaders are pleased to find open markets in South America and a business climate more relaxed than in Europe or the US, post-September 11. Whereas the United Arab Emirates recently lost a billion dollar US ports deal due to an intense anti-Arab backlash in that country, Venezuela has very publicly entered into energy and trade pacts with Iran. Meanwhile, Brazil will greatly increase exports of agricultural goods to the Middle East. According to the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, exports could double within five years. And the Venezuelan-backed Latin American TV station Telesur, last year signed an agreement with the Qatar-based Arabic network Al-Jazeera to share content and cooperate on newsgathering.
In addition, many South American states are forcefully engaged in a campaign to eliminate rich countries’ agricultural subsidies. The fight has stymied trade talks in the proposed Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA), as well as World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings. The topic has long been a popular theme among Arab leaders and this week’s summit is sure to strengthen the fair trade position.