Brazil and Argentina Cheer Castro. There’s Talk of Bringing Cuba into Mercosur.

The 30th Mercosur presidential summit Friday, July 21, in Cordoba, Argentina, signaled the official incorporation of Venezuela as the block’s fifth full member and the "unity in diversity" concept which seems to underlie the South American customs union.

Host President Nestor Kirchner welcomed the "historic" incorporation of oil-rich Venezuela, the continent’s third largest economy after Brazil and Argentina and warned Mercosur still faces integration commitments and challenges, in a region that underwent "an economic meltdown and financial emptying".

Mercosur and Latinamerican integration are "the heart of the regional block which is demanding a long, complex and sinuous process," adding that "coordination and cooperation aimed at a new equilibrium are needed."

The new integration agenda is a strategy to address a globalized world, which means integrating to the world, "but not as it comes."

The addition of Venezuela gives Mercosur a combined market of 250 million people and a combined output of US$ 1 trillion in goods and services annually which still is far behind Nafta, combining the markets of the United States, Canada and Mexico, with 450 million consumers and a combined gross product of about 14 trillion US$ 14 trillion.

Kirchner said a growing Mercosur should fight inequality as a way of bolstering their nations’ economies and helping them compete in the global economy. "Democracy, human rights, liberty and the fight against poverty" are the basis for a "new world order" in the region, one with its own identity.

Mercosur leaders also concluded on an agreement to foster greater trade with Cuba, despite a 45-year-old U.S. embargo of the island. The accord is intended to promote a greater exchange of goods between Mercosur nations and Cuba through tariff reductions and a promise that neither side will arbitrarily hike import fees or taxes.

Such developments have worried those who lament the decline of U.S. influence in the region.

Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez and Nicanor Duarte of Paraguay also took part, and Chile’s moderate President Michelle Bachelet attended as an observer.

Chile which does not share the economic approach of the majority of Mercosur and privileges open markets, low tariffs, competition and foreign investment, does acknowledge the political weight of the block, "the value of unity in diversity" and the "alternative options" emphasized President Bachelet.

Bolivian President Evo Morales celebrated Castro’s participation in the summit and said that if Cuba were to join Mercosur, the grassroots movements in Bolivia would "force" the government in La Paz to follow suit.

The gathering in Cordoba was transformed into an "historic" event by "the presence of comrade and big brother Fidel, who always brings us clarity and gives us strength" said Evo Morales.

Mercopress – www.mercopress.com

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