Chávez calls on South America to unite

South American nations will have to choose whether they want continental unity or individual trade agreements with the United States—but not both, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said on Wednesday.

“You either have one or the other ... they’re like oil and water,” Chávez said, after meetings with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina.

Chávez arrived early on Wednesday amid a storm of controversy over US trade agreements that threaten to rupture Latin-American trade blocs. His remarks were aimed at Colombia, whose agreement with the US was the ninth in the region since a hemispheric trade pact fell apart last year.

“Colombia is opening its doors” to subsidised US goods, Chávez said.
“What will invade Colombia is not the marines, but subsidised rice.”

Chávez met Silva and Kirchner amid worries about the future of the Andean Community of Nations trade bloc, including Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; and Mercosur, the bloc founded by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The groups are seen as the embryo of a possible South American free-trade zone, promoted by Brazil and seen by Chávez as an alternative to the hemispheric trade union backed by the US.

But one-on-one trade deals with the US undermine continental unity, Chávez said.

“Either we’re a united community or we’re not,” he said.

Chávez last week announced that Venezuela would drop out of the Andean community, which he said was “dead” because Colombia and Peru had signed free-trade deals with Washington.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who visited Brazil on Tuesday, has said Colombia’s agreement with Washington doesn’t affect its partners in the Andean community and asked Chávez to “save” the bloc.

But Chávez said he will form a Bolivarian alternative trade pact based on socialist principles as an alternative to US-backed free-trade deals. He said he will meet in Cuba with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Saturday, and the two countries will join the pact.

Chávez also urged the expansion of a proposed 10 000km gas pipeline from Venezuela to Brazil and Argentina, estimated at $20-billion. He said Bolivia must also be linked to the pipeline.

Bolivia’s gas reserves of 4,5-trillion square metres are second in the continent to Venezuela’s 14-trillion square metres.

“Bolivia is a priority,” Chávez said. “This project will guarantee energy ... for all South American countries in the 21st century and beyond.”—Sapa-AP

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