Havana, Cuba, July 24, 2006—The 30th Mercosur (Common Market of the South) Summit came to a close last Friday in Cordoba, Argentina with the passage of a final declaration and an economic agreement between Cuba and the Mercosur countries. Venezuela will incorporate into the agreement once it has completed the process of integration as a full member of the southern trading block. The Summit also marked Venezuela’s first official meeting as the fifth full member of the trading block since its incorporation earlier this month.
On top of the presidents from the five full member countries; Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela, the summit was additionally attended by Cuban President, Fidel Castro, and Mercosur associate members; Bolivian President Evo Morales, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
The Complementary Economic Agreement reached between Cuba and Mercosur, was signed under the objective of, “driving the trade exchange of the parties through the reduction or elimination of taxes and other applied restrictions regarding the importation of negotiated products.”
The agreement essentially consolidates the already existing bilateral agreements on preferential tariffs that Cuba has with each of the Mercosur members. The text of the agreement indicates that, “the parties will not maintain or introduce new restrictions or tariffs in their reciprocal trade.”
“The trade liberalization of Latin America, with the base of sub-regional and bi-lateral agreements, constitutes one of the instruments for economic and social development,” continues the document.
With the presidents of the Mercosur countries falling politically left of center, there has been a push to expand Mercosur’s traditionally economic role into a more social one.
“Without a doubt, the ideological agreement between the governments that are driving the social process of Mercosur is a necessary condition in order to solidify it. This transformation is the point of convergence towards a new model of integration,” said Argentine diplomat Hugo Varsky, according to Agence French Press.
During his speech at the summit, Fidel Castro offered the Cuban experiences of heath and education in order to fortify the new social concept of the trading block. According to Castro, 261,034 Latin Americans and Caribbeans have received eye operations under the program Misión Milagro. The program is expanding and, together with Venezuela, they have agreed to carry out 600,000 eye operations in ten years. Castro also added that 1.5 million Venezuelans have been taught to read and write under the Cuban literacy method, Yo, si puedo; almost 30,000 Cuban doctors are serving communities outside of the country; and thousands of youth from across the planet are studying medicine in the Caribbean country. Castro also declared that more can be done to lower the infant mortality rate across South America and mentioned that Cuba’s level of 5.6 deaths per every thousand people is well below even that of the United States.
On top of the Cuba-Mercosur agreement, Mercosur countries also released a Final Declaration and a joint communiqué committing to support Venezuelan’s candidacy for the UN Security Council seat.
The Summit’s Final Declaration included 42 points pertaining to strategic energy, institutionalization, and the possibility of the creation of a Development Bank in order to finance common projects.
In a closing act that came after the official summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, along with Fidel Castro and the Hebe de Bonafini, the President of the Argentine organization Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, spoke to a large crowd in the Argentine city of Cordoba and called for the further integration of other South American nations into Mercosur.
“Sooner rather than later, Bolivia should be in Mercosur. Sooner than later, I aspire that Cuba is also a member of the unity of Mercosur! This is the road!” Called Chavez to the thousands gathered at the University of Cordoba. “The day will come, and it is not very far away, that from the Caribbean, to here in the Rio Plata, we will have a solid political body. A League of Republics. Simon Bolivar called it the mother of nations, the mother of Republics. The Union of all of us in one great political, social and economic force.”
According to Mexico’s El Universal, last year global trade exchange with the Mercosur countries reached over $227 billion, with exports over $140 billion. Although trade with Cuba corresponded to only 0.17% of those totals, the Cuba-Mercosur agreement comes at an especially important time just one week after the United States released the 2nd report from the Commission for a Free Cuba, in which it defines further steps towards pushing for an end to the current Cuban government, and strengthening the economic blockade against the Caribbean nation, which has been in effect since 1962.