Venezuela Proposes Food Crisis Fund at Controversial Trans-Atlantic Summit

Fifty heads of state from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the European Union (EU) pledged to strengthen trade relations in order to fight poverty and promote sustainable development at a two-day summit that concluded Saturday in Lima, Peru.
Chávez commented at the summit, "The market cannot regulate people's lives", and Bolivian President Evo Morales said the summit was organized to censor socialist critiques of free trade. (ABN)

Mérida, May 20, 2008 (– Fifty heads of state from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the European Union (EU) pledged to strengthen trade relations in order to fight poverty and promote sustainable development at a two-day summit that concluded Saturday in Lima, Peru.

In an alternative “People’s Summit” held simultaneously in the Peruvian capital, 10,000 social movement leaders from 15 countries declared that the summit represented the EU’s effort to “implement the agenda of its transnationals and to deepen neoliberal policies.”

Heads of state at the official summit signed the Lima Declaration, which lays out “a vision that seeks to promote the well-being of people with more inclusive and integrated societies, deepen regional integration, and construct a multilateral system that is more effective and democratic.”

Notably, the fight against global warming and the environmental impact of energy sources also topped the agenda as key elements of future trans-Atlantic trade relations.

Although the international food crisis was absent from the original agenda of the summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spurred discussion of this topic, when he proposed an emergency food fund bolstered by Venezuela’s soaring oil profits.

When oil prices surpass $100 per barrel, Venezuela will contribute one dollar per barrel counting up to one million barrels (a third of Venezuela’s daily production) to a “fund that permits us to produce, acquire, and deliver food and medicines to the homes of the poorest families,” Chávez proposed. The president estimated that the fund could amount to more than a billion dollars if all the countries at the summit contribute.

No resolution was reached regarding the fund, but the Lima Declaration states that “a lasting answer to the current food crisis” will require “coordinated actions by the international community” to strengthen the agricultural production capacity of “the most vulnerable countries and the populations most affected by high food prices.”

Of primary emphasis at the summit were the EU’s trade deals, termed “association accords,” with South America’s Andean Community of Nations (CAN) and the southern free trade block MERCOSUR.

Colombia and Peru have pursued free trade pacts with the EU more enthusiastically than their fellow CAN members Bolivia and Ecuador, whose governments have been opposed to trade liberalization. Saturday, Peruvian President Alan García announced that CAN countries agreed to pursue a free trade agreement with “flexibilities” that allow them to move at different paces in their trade relations with the EU.

García added that the conditions often imposed by the EU in trade negotiations are like “an iron ball around the ankle” of Latin American countries.

Commenting on the new accord, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said, “There is nothing wrong with there being different visions, different strategies, different levels of development within the Andean community, but the important thing is to arrive at minimal consensuses in order to concretize this accord.”

Consistent with this conciliatory mood, President Chávez mended diplomatic relations with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

A week before the summit, Merkel had said Chávez “is not the voice of Latin America.” Chávez responded by saying Merkel is “from the same Right that supported Hitler.” At the summit, Chávez told Merkel, “I have not come here to fight,” and asked for forgiveness as he shook the hand and kissed the cheek of the chancellor.

Likewise, relations with Spain had soured at an Iberian-American summit in Chile last November, when Chávez denounced the “fascist” ex-president of Spain, José María Aznar, for supporting the elite Venezuelan opposition, and King Juan Carlos of Spain ordered Chávez to “shut up.”

At the summit, Chávez described his two meetings with Zapatero as “very constructive,” and assured that “starting today, Venezuela re-assumes the path of excellent relations that it has always had with the Spanish government.” This position was echoed by the Spanish Secretary of Iberian-American Relations, Trinidad Jiménez.

However, both Chávez and Correa kept their distance from Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. Since Colombian armed forces illegally attacked a guerrilla encampment within Ecuadoran territory March 1st, Uribe has relentlessly accused Chávez and Correa of supporting armed insurgent groups in Colombia.

Chávez characterized Colombia as the “only problem we have in South America” in terms of presidential relations, since all other administrations in the region maintain cordial relationships with each other.

Similarly, Correa asserted that the military conflict in Colombia is the “essential problem of Latin America,” since “Uribe is incapable of controlling these problems and he exports them.”

Beyond these diplomatic conflicts, the summit lacked substantial dialogue about real issues, according to Bolivian President Evo Morales, who criticized that “it was well-organized, well-planned, so that no president who has differences that are ideological, cultural, programmatic, or over financial issues could participate.”

Morales called such censorship a form of “demagogy,” and lamented that “these are the rules of these summits, but I want to express my profound differences.”

There are now five Latin American presidents who share a vision for a “socialist” model of development, the president pointed out. “If we want to bring an end to poverty, this can only be done by ending the capitalist system,” he frankly asserted.

President Morales also gave the closing speech at the People’s Summit, at which 10,000 indigenous and peasant leaders, women, students, workers, non-government organizations, school teachers, miners, and other social movement leaders gathered to “strengthen the resistance to neoliberal policies, which governments from both regions intend to apply in our countries,” according to the summit’s final declaration.

“Latin America is giving birth to a new democracy,” Morales proclaimed. “This process of rebellion against the empire … to defeat the capitalist model, this should continue in Latin America,” the president encouraged.

President Chávez did not attend the People’s summit, even though he was invited to be a special guest and was praised by participants during the event.

The final declaration of the People’s Summit praises the “nationalization of strategic enterprises for national development and natural resources, which pertain to the People, not the transnationals,” apparently referring to recent events in Venezuela and Bolivia.

“We reject the project of Association Accords proposed by the European Union and endorsed by diverse Latin American and Caribbean governments that only seek to deepen and perpetuate the system of domination that has done so much damage to our peoples,” the declaration asserts.

Referring to the climate and food crises, the declaration states, “It is inadmissible to propose, as a way out of the crisis, more liberalization and de-regulation,” because allowing the market to have supremacy over human needs is “the principal cause of inequality, social polarization, environmental degradation, and discrimination.”

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, writing for the Cuban government newspaper La Granma, praised President Alan García for mentioning in his closing address at the official summit several ideas Cuba had presented in the past. These included cancelling the debt of Latin American and Caribbean countries, that European countries invest in Third World countries 10% of what they spend on the military, and the termination agricultural subsidies.

President Chávez also coincided with García and with the People’s Summit declaration on the idea that “the market cannot regulate people’s lives because this is what produces misery and inequality,” which García had mentioned in his opening address at the official summit, Chávez stated Friday.