Mérida, July 28th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – As Cuba celebrated the 57th anniversary of the first battle of the Cuban Revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, Venezuelan and Cuban government ministers held a two-day meeting to discuss 139 economic cooperation projects.
In the tourist resort town of Cayo Santa María, they set up five working groups in the areas of light industries, heavy industries, agriculture, mining, and energy.
The ministers discussed 20 projects pertaining to heavy industries such as metallurgy; 27 projects pertaining to petroleum, petrochemicals, and energy; 41 projects in the areas of food production, sugar, and farming; six mining projects; and 45 light industry projects in areas including transportation, communication, health, tourism, and housing construction, according to the Venezuelan government.
One key project is Cuban assistance to Venezuela’s electricity sector, according to Venezuelan Minister for Electric Energy Ali Rodriguez.
“We continue to be focused on taking advantage of the experience that Cuba has lived combating the electricity problem, which today has been resolved for the most part, and which helped us a lot in overcoming the recent hydroelectric crisis caused by the drought of 2009,” said Rodriguez.
In late 2009, Venezuela was forced to establish consumer conservation measures and programmed nation-wide power outages amid a drought that lowered the water level at the nation’s dams, which provide most of its electricity.
The vice president of Cuba’s Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, said the Caribbean island nation and its South American ally are preparing to “take a leap toward more advanced levels of planning” with the objective of “incorporating a new dimension in our relations and consolidating the ties between the two nations even more.”
Cabrisas Ruiz said approximately 40 of the projects discussed are ready to be carried out in the short term, and the details will be announced once they are confirmed.
Venezuelan Energy and Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramirez explained to the South American television channel Telesur that the Cuba-Venezuela cooperation started with commercial exchange, but is evolving into a more complementary form of cooperation. Joint companies formed by the two states begin as “twin companies,” then become “mixed companies” before advancing on to become companies of a “greater national character,” he said.
Venezuela’s trade with Cuba has grown from $40 million to approximately $7 billion since President Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998. The trade has taken the form of Venezuelan oil refining and exploration in Cuba, Cuban purchases of Venezuelan goods, as well as mutual investments in social programs for education and health care.
Perhaps the area of cooperation that has had the most significant social impact is that of health care, which began in 2003 with the founding of the Barrio Adentro program. Tens of thousands of Cuban doctors staff an extensive network of free health clinics in Venezuela’s poor barrios and serve as professors in a free, public university program to train nearly 30,000 students from across Latin America in social community-based medicine.
This bilateral cooperation reflects the nations’ roles as allies who oppose U.S. imperialism and free trade policies and support Latin American integration based on solidarity as an alternative, specifically in the form of a trade bloc they founded called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).
“We are forging this union basing ourselves on the principles of the ALBA, that is to say, on complementarities, cooperation, solidarity, and respect for sovereignty, and not competition,” Minister Rodriguez commented on Sunday.
President Hugo Chavez had planned to attend the meetings in Cuba, but cancelled the trip due to an intensifying political crisis between Venezuela and Colombia, which, Chavez said, threatens to erupt into a U.S.-backed military aggression against Venezuela.