Venezuela and Argentina
strengthen regional integration

By Chris Carlson


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — While his counterpart U.S. President George W. Bush visited Brazil and Uruguay, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez made a brief visit to Argentina to strengthen his plan for regional integration, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA).  Continuing the process of integration between the two countries, Chávez and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner signed several bilateral agreements regarding agriculture, the energy sector, and the creation of the Bank of the South.


Speaking in front of thousands of supporters in Buenos Aires, including the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, President Chávez emphasized the historic and momentous importance of this process of integration as an alternative to the United States' economic plan of free trade, which Bush continues to promote through bilateral Free Trade Agreements with some countries in the region.


After Venezuela's recent entry into MERCOSUR and the numerous agreements signed recently between the countries, Argentina now has more economic agreements with Venezuela than with any other country.  "It can't bother anyone that our countries are becoming integrated," said Kirchner after signing one of the joint projects between Venezuela and his country on Friday.


Chávez and Kirchner signed eleven agreements on this occasion, in addition to the 17 bilateral agreements signed between the two nations last month during Kirchner's visit to Venezuela.  The new agreements signed on Friday open the way for the creation of joint projects between the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and Argentine companies to exploit oil wells in the Orinoco and to produce natural gas for vehicles.  The plans include the production of gas motors and natural gas driven buses.  And, perhaps more importantly, the two leaders signed an Energy Treaty to create an Organization of Gas Producing and Exporting Countries of the South, which Bolivia may soon join as well.


In the agricultural sector the two nations signed several agreements, including one to expand investigation for the production of potatoes and the construction of two laboratories to work with animal reproduction in Venezuela.  Another agreement was signed to involve Argentine cooperation in the agricultural area of Bolivar State in Venezuela.  PDV Agrícola of Venezuela and Grupo Grobo of Argentina also signed a commercial agreement to develop the livestock industry in Venezuela, with the intention of improving Venezuela's supply of beef.


Aiming to build an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that have lost much influence in the region in recent history, Chávez and Kirchner advanced their plans for the creation of the multilateral financial body, the Bank of the South.  Both leaders signed a document on Friday accepting the incorporation of Bolivia in the bank.  The Bank of the South, set to begin operations within 4 months, will be a new fund destined to finance development projects in South America, financed from the International Reserves from all participating nations


All of this fits within Chavez' bigger goals of integration for all of Latin America.  Beyond the individual agreements, the Venezuelan President is pushing a new form of strategic integration and cooperation known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA).  The alternative was developed in opposition to the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas (FTAA) which has been rejected in the region since the Summit of the Americas in 2005.


It appears that U.S. president Bush's recent visit to the region has the intention of regaining lost ground in Latin America since the fall of the FTAA and the rising influence of the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.  Bush, who is visiting Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, seeks bilateral trade agreements with several countries, and wishes to expand its bilateral Free Trade Agreements with individual countries.  These agreements could threaten to divide the movements toward integration like ALBA and MERCOSUR that Hugo Chávez is promoting.