Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez officially signed Friday in Montevideo, Uruguay, the incorporation of his country as a Mercosur ‘full member’ and called for a more ‘political’ block with a greater input of strategic planning.
Mercosur full members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and now in the incorporation process, Venezuela.
"I give a hearty welcome to a friend," said Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. "Mercosur continues to be an engine for economic integration, even more important for our countries."
Argentine President, Nestor Kirchner, was particularly enthusiastic, "We’re welcoming the incorporation of Venezuela which is a signal of the group’s vitality, a landmark which projects Mercosur to the whole continent."
Mr. Kirchner also made it a point to congratulate Chavez for his recent ‘legitimate electoral victory’, an event marred by controversy and claims of ‘lack of guarantees’ from the opposition, which finally stepped down.
The Venezuela admission to the South American trade group took place during Mercosur bi annual presidential summit and is only the first step of a long process, estimated anywhere from one to three years, in which Venezuela will for the meantime have a voice "but no vote."
Mr. Chavez began thanking his fellow presidents for "having opened the door" to Venezuela and the dream of Liberator Simon Bolivar of a united America.
"There’s no better day for Venezuela to incorporate as a full member of Mercosur," said President Chavez sitting next to the leaders of Uruguay, Tabare Vasquez; Argentina, Nestor Kirchner; Brazil, Lula da Silva; Paraguay, Nicanor Duarte and associate members presidents, Chilean Ricardo Lagos, Bolivia’s Eduardo Rodríguez plus all the other country and international organization representatives.
"Yes, I believe Mercosur must be more political. I believe it’s a political project, a collective project for the peoples, for the polis," underlined Mr. Chavez adding that Venezuela’s Mercosur move does not mean "any distancing from the Andean Community or the Caribbean, all these blocks must articulate."
The Venezuelan President also talked of "injecting a greater strategic input to Mercosur," taking advantage of its strong standing to put pressure on international negotiations.
He also called on other Latinamerican countries to join the energy integration of the continent, which basically means constructing a natural gas pipeline extending from Venezuela to Patagonia, connecting all of South America.
"We’re talking of a gas pipeline of seven to eight thousand kilometers, interconnecting with existing networks, demanding an investment of US$ 12 billion in several years," said Mr. Chavez who highlighted that Venezuela’s gas reserves are enough to supply the region’s development for the next fifty years.
"Venezuela has accomplished a great turn around, before all the oil was sent exclusively to the United States."
But when the loquacious Mr. Chavez was nearing the sixtieth minute of his speech Uruguayan President Vasquez kindly suggested it was time to give other leaders a chance to speak.
Other businesses approved during the summit include the creation of the Mercosur Parliament, which will begin to operate December 31, 2006 with Montevideo as its seat; a regional energy complementation accord which will now include all associate members, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador plus the five full members, and a human rights declaration subscribed by the ten (full and associate) members.
Venezuela still has ahead the adherence to the Treaties of Asunción, (Mercosur foundation); Ouro Preto (institutional framework); Olivos (dispute solving) plus adopting the common external tariff. Technical negotiations are scheduled to begin next May by a task group specially created for that purpose.
This article appeared originally in Mercopress – www.mercopress.com.