Brazil and Argentina are already the number one and two economies in South America, followed by oil-rich Venezuela. Foreign ministers of Mercosur spent the day Thursday, July 20, hashing out details of today’s presidential summit.
Fidel Castro was accompanied by Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Vice-President Carlos Lage. The Cuban leader, who turns 80 on August 13, has travelled to fewer international summits in recent years and has made no public appearances on the island in several weeks.
Castro is a close friend and political ally of Chavez and Morales, a socialist and the first Indian elected to the presidency of South America’s poorest country.
Cordoba holds special significance for Castro because the late revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara spent most of his childhood in this central hill province 650 kilometers northwest of Buenos Aires. Castro is said to be planning to visit the town of Alta Gracia, where Guevara’s middle-class childhood home has been turned into a museum.
As part of Mercosur’s 30th summit since 1991, the leaders are expected to sign a new deal promoting trade between Mercosur nations and Cuba, a country still under a decades-old economic embargo by the United States. As a guest of the Mercosur nations, Castro is likely to deliver an address to the meeting.
Mercosur, in addition to incoming member Venezuela, is historically made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Unlike Brazilian President Lula, who boarded a black limousine without making comments, Chavez waded into a crowd of local journalists and rifle-toting security forces to speak of a new Mercosur.
Chavez said the once-sleepy Customs union that emerged a decade ago during a wave of pro-US free trade diplomacy was undergoing a "relaunch."
He also pledged to put Venezuela’s strength as an oil power behind Mercosur, which now greatly expands its scope beyond its beginnings in southernmost South America.
"We are entering a new stage of Mercosur," Chavez said. "Now Mercosur is in the Caribbean …. imagine that, the incorporation of nearly 30 million Venezuelans into a southern common market, and the Venezuelan economy is one of the most vigorous today in the world. Venezuela is a world oil power now integrated into Mercosur."
He said he also applauded Castro’s decision to attend, adding "the presence of Cuba here as an invited guest of Mercosur is very positive. I think it’s very important Fidel himself is here."
Castro makes entrance onto Mercosur stage
A rare guest appearance at the Mercosur trade meeting by Cuban leader Fidel Castro transformed a routine economic gathering into a high-profile summit of Washington’s greatest Latin American foes.
The communist leader left Havana at midday for his first visit to Argentina since President Néstor Kirchner’s inauguration in May 2003 and arrived in Córdoba at 8.30pm. It is the fourth time Castro is in Argentina.
The surprise visit by the dean of Latin America’s left, honoring Venezuela’s formal induction into Mercosur, set up a nightmare image for Washington’s free-trade faithful: Castro and his radical allies Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia publicly embracing Latin America’s more mainstream leftists, far beyond the influence of the White House.
Arriving in Buenos Aires yesterday morning, Chávez called their display of leftist unity a "fiesta of integration." He lunched with Kirchner and the two later flew separately to Córdoba to join the others, including Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Morales and Chile’s Michelle Bachelet were attending as observers; also coming are the leaders of Mercosur members Paraguay and Uruguay, Nicanor Duarte Frutos and Tabard Vázquez respectively.
Venezuela’s formal induction into Mercosur, a long-unassuming Customs union that will now include all the continent’s largest economies, is to be a highlight of today’s daylong Mercosur summit of presidents.
Mercopress – www.mercopress.com