Unity is at the top of Venezuela’s agenda for Latin America. Just over a year ago Venezuela and Cuba signed agreements establishing the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), and President Hugo Chávez’ return to Havana Feb. 3 was the occasion for rededication to solidarity among Latin American nations.

At 2 a.m. President Fidel Castro greeted Chávez at Havana’s airport and a few hours later took him to Cuba’s 15th International Book Fair, where Venezuela was the guest of honor. The two presidents signed an agreement providing for an ALBA Cultural Fund to support a publishing house and record label.

That evening at a rally attended by 200,000 people, Castro presented Chávez with the Jose Marti International Award sponsored by UNESCO. The prize honors contributions towards Latin American integration and the preservation of cultural traditions and historical values. Addressing the crowd, Chávez recounted Simon Bolivar’s dreams of a Latin America integrated and liberated from imperial control.

He identified U.S. domination in Latin America as a source of poverty and suffering. Noting that “Jose Marti and Simon Bolivar revealed an anti-imperialist awareness in most of their works,” Chávez ran down the list of U.S. interventions in the region since 1846.

Recently Venezuela has taken some practical steps. On Jan. 24 Chávez and newly elected Bolivian President Evo Morales signed agreements on energy supplies, agricultural sales, health care and educational initiatives. The two nations are united, he said, in a “battle against neoliberalism, against capitalism.”

Venezuela will provide 200,000 barrels of oil each month in exchange for food products and will purchase soybean and poultry products from Bolivia. Cuban and Venezuelan experts are on the verge of launching a nationwide literacy campaign in Bolivia. Venezuela joined other nations on Feb. 1 in sending food and material aid to Bolivia in the wake of devastating floods there caused by heavy rains.

At a meeting on Jan. 21 in Brasilia, presidents Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and Chávez announced plans to build a 5,000-mile-long natural gas pipeline extending from Caracas to Buenos Aires with links to Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. The project will take seven years to complete and cost up to $20 billion. Venezuela recently joined with those nations in Mercosur, the South American common market.