Mérida, May 23, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez met in Caracas Thursday evening to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries and to sign a military cooperation agreement before traveling together to the summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Brazil on Friday.
The “Memorandum of Understanding in the Area of Security and Defense” includes cooperation in training, capacity-building, and logistics, and “is going to benefit our peoples to assure our defense and our democracy,” Chávez declared.
The agreement also includes the possible construction of a naval base in Bolivia with Venezuelan assistance, and was endorsed by the Venezuelan Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel Briceño, the Bolivian Defense Minister Walker San Miguel Rodríguez, and the Bolivian Naval Commander José Luis Cabas.
Even though Bolivia lost its Pacific Ocean coastline in a conflict with Chile between 1879 and 1883, it still has a navy with its own academies and maneuvers in lakes and rivers.
President Morales said the accord “is an important step for the dignification of the armed forces of Bolivia.” His country has decided “to have its own military doctrine” that is committed to the people and not to foreign interests, the leader explained.
This means the Bolivian armed forces “need spaces for technical and intellectual preparation,” Morales told the press.
Venezuela and Bolivia previously signed a military cooperation agreement in 2006 which included Venezuelan financial assistance to Bolivia for the construction of military bases along the Bolivian border.
Chávez said Thursday’s visit with Morales would “serve the purpose of evaluating the process of integration between Venezuela and Bolivia, and at the same time, to prepare us for the UNASUR summit,” during which proposals for a South American Defense Council will be discussed, among other issues related to unity on the continent.
The concept of the South American Defense Council, presented by Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, has the backing of all the presidents in the region, according to recent announcements by Nelson Jobim, the defense minister of Brazil.
“I spoke with everybody, there is a favorable position toward the institution of the council. Some are more enthusiastic and others are less enthusiastic, but there is uniformity in the creation of the council," Jobim told the press last Monday.
The council is projected to be constituted by the end of this year. It is meant to be a forum for conflict resolution, integration of defense industries, and a regional common voice in international affairs, Jobim explained.
Morales declared that the day of the UNASUR summit will be a “an historic day, an opportunity to fulfill the dream of [independence leader Simón] Bolívar, of [indigenous anti-colonial leader] Túpac Catari, of a united Latin America… I feel that all our presidents must be there to fulfill the command of our ancestors.”
Unity Threatened by Local Autonomy Movements?
Meanwhile, elite opposition leaders from fertile, resource-rich regions in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador have launched autonomy movements that threaten to destabilize these countries.
On May 4th, Bolivian opposition leaders carried out an autonomy referendum in the eastern province of Santa Cruz which the government deemed an unconstitutional, illegitimate effort to divide the country and sequester national resources. Similar referendums are planned in the neighboring Bolivian provinces of Beni, Pando, and Tarija this June.
The Bolivian government has asked that all South American presidents at the UNASUR summit ratify their support for the Bolivian government as it attempts to resolve the conflict with the secessionists, according to announcements this morning by the Bolivian Foreign Relations Minsiter, David Choquehuanca.
Venezuela already pledged its support to the Bolivian government and rejected the autonomy efforts prior to the May 4th referendum. At that time, the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution rejecting “any attempt to rupture” the territorial or constitutional integrity of Bolivia, but did not explicitly mention the referendum.
The Bolivian government has invited representatives from every province of Bolivia to dialogue, along with the Catholic Church, and has sought mediation by neighboring countries and the OAS.
Morales and the major parties which support him recently presented a proposal titled “Foundations for National Reconciliation”, the objective of which is to promote the “integration of the distinct proposals for autonomy statutes in a concerted manner in the project of the Political Constitution of the State.”
After initially refusing to participate in dialogues if the autonomy referendums were not recognized as legitimate, opposition leaders have agreed to limited talks. Morales and Bolivia’s 9 governors also agreed to submit their mandates to a national referendum this August.
Despite the conflict, the Bolivian president said it is “exaggerated” to call the present situation a political crisis in comparison with past coup d’états and political assassinations in the country. “I don’t know if I am optimistic, but I want to be sincere with you. I feel that this is not a critical moment,” Morales proclaimed.