jChavez slams pan-American trade pact

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon May 26 01:25:36 MDT 2003

INTERVIEW-Venezuela's Chavez slams pan-American trade pact
Reuters, 05.24.03, 9:00 PM ET

By Eduardo Orozco

CUSCO, Peru (Reuters) - Latin America will sign its own death warrant
if it joins a planned pan-American free trade deal that is not
designed to help the poor, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said

"Venezuela is on the side of the people and we propose a new
integration system that is definitely not the FTAA which, as it has
been put forward, is a perverse mechanism that would be a death order
for the future of the region," Chavez told Reuters in an interview.

The United States is a strong advocate of the Free Trade of the
Americas (FTAA) pact, which is due to be finalized by 2005 and would
facilitate commerce from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

Chavez, who faces ongoing violence at home over his controversial rule
and has a tense relationship with Washington, was in the Andean city
of Cusco for a summit of the 19-member Rio Group of Latin American

Leaders discussed how to curb social unrest, recharge economies and
make Latin America a key trader in a globalized world. Many -- like
Chile, which is waiting for Washington to sign a bilateral trade
deal -- seek to boost trade with the United States, through bilateral
deals or the FTAA.

Critics of the free trade deal say, however, that it will chiefly
benefit North America's bigger, industrialized economies and will not
help millions of poor Latin Americans.

Chavez proposed instead a social and political pact called the
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, named after Simon Bolivar,
the 19th century general who struggled in vain to politically unite
South America.

"We don't even need anything like Mercosur (a trade bloc grouping
Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), because we can't put the
economy first in terms of integration. Political unity needs to come
first," he said.

Chavez's opponents, who have organized months of violent protests,
accuse him of authoritarian, communist-style rule in the world's No. 5
oil exporting nation. One person was killed and 22 hurt Saturday when
shooting erupted at an anti-Chavez rally in Caracas.

The Venezuelan leader declined to comment on the violence, which came
a day after government and opposition negotiators agreed to a pact
that could lead to a referendum on his rule.

"I don't know if there will be a recall referendum. It's a possibility
if the opposition meets all the constitutional requirements," said
Chavez, who has declared his willingness to submit to a referendum.
"If there is, I will defeat (the opposition) again. The people will
defeat them again."

"The Rio Group countries...are sure that (the agreement) willl
strengthen the democratic process in our brother nation," the leaders
at the summit said in a declaration.

Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service

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