Mercosur promotes South American unity

Closing the 30th summit of Mercosur, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the new president of the 15-year-old South American trade association, observed, “Many still don’t realize that we have changed the political profile of our America, and we are changing the social profile.” His use of Jose Marti’s expression for Latin America, “our America,” was probably not accidental. Marti, who died in 1895 fighting for Cuban independence, was a voice for Latin American unity.

The epochal nature of the four-day gathering held in Cordoba, Argentina, was signaled by the deliberations, by the popular demonstrations going on simultaneously in Cordoba, by participation of Venezuela, Mercosur’s newest member, and by the presence of Cuba’s President Fidel Castro, an invited guest. The session ended on July 21.

President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina hosted the summit, which was attended by Presidents Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay, Nicanor Duarte of Paraguay, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Evo Morales of Bolivia. The latter two countries are associate members of Mercosur.

Among the decisions coming out of the meeting were support for Venezuela to join the UN Security Council, plans for negotiations between Mercosur and the European Union, and condemnation of military aggression in the Middle East. The presidents agreed to expand trade with Pakistan and India, build the “Great Gas Pipeline of the South” from Venezuela to Argentina, and establish a Mercosur development bank.

They envisioned integration based on solidarity and dealt with the problem of power imbalances within Mercosur. Observers saw plans to bring Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia into a gas and oil pipeline network as an effort to address the concerns of small Mercosur countries overshadowed by Argentina and Brazil. The “South-South pipelines” would serve political and social integration.

The nations signed bilateral agreements. Argentina, for example, agreed that Pdvsa, the Venezuelan nationalized oil giant, would assume operational control of its oil company, Rhasa, in return for stepped up fuel supplies from Venezuela. Cuba signed agreements to facilitate the flow of exports from Cuba to the Mercosur nations, and vice versa. The value of Mercosur exports to Cuba increased from $161 million in 2001 to $364 million in 2005. Cuban imports increased threefold in the same period. Cuba and Venezuela also signed a customs accord.

Castro spoke to the Mercosur leaders, holding up Cuban social programs as models for a Latin America. He cited Cuba’s fight against infant mortality, mass treatment for blindness, literacy programs, energy conservation measures and international medical education.

Also in Cordoba, while Mercosur was in session, 50,000 people representing Latin American social, labor and human rights organizations were gathered at the “4th Summit of the Peoples for Sovereignty and South American Integration.” Participants discussed environmental and women’s issues, oppression of indigenous peoples, energy policies and the role of the universities.