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Last rites for Andean Community?
Cecilia Remón, Inter Press Service
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Venezuela quits the Andean Community of Nations, opening the debate on integration.

In a shocking move, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced April 19 that he was pulling his country out of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN). Bolivia may follow suit. And now the question remains: Can the CAN continue?

"Although some might argue that the Andean Community exists, it is finished, it is dead, it has been trampled by neoliberalism," said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, referring to the free trade agreements (FTA) that Colombia and Peru recently signed with the United States.

Bolivian President Evo Morales echoed the sentiment.

"I also feel that the Andean Community is dead," he said. "Some presidents in the bloc are instruments of disintegration and recolonization, although we are hopeful, and are staking our bets on South American integration."

For participants at the CAN’s April 24-25 forum "Building an Andean Community of Citizens" in Medellin, Colombia, Chávez’s decision was economic, not political, and was tied to the country’s immense oil wealth.

Venezuela’s Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Rondón says otherwise.

The CAN — originally composed of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela — "has not given us the results we had hoped for and some country’s alliances with the United States reduces the autonomy of our peoples and governments," Rondón said.

"It’s not possible that the presidents of Colombia and Peru, ignoring the struggle of their people to sign agreements like the FTA with the United States," said Bolivia’s Morales.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo responded to Bolivia and Venezuela’s accusations immediately.

Colombia’s defense

"It’s unfair to force Colombia, whose gas and oil reserves are worth nothing compared to those of Bolivia and Venezuela, to not enter into the world’s biggest market," Uribe said at the launch of the CAN summit in Medellin. The Colombian leader added that his government will not suspend transactions finalizing the FTA with the United States.

Toledo agreed, but asked that Chávez and Morales rethink their position.

But the region’s integration crisis does not soley revolve around the CAN. The Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Chile and Peru as associated members, and Venezuelan on the path to full membership, has also received strong criticism recent.

"The way things stand now, Mercosur is not useful," said Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, April 27 in a meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay with Chávez, Morales and Paraguay President Nicanor Duarte where an agreement was reached on a project through which Bolivia would supply natural gas to Paraguay and Uruguay.

Vásquez also mentioned the conflict between Uruguay and Argentina over the construction of two large pulp mills on the Uruguayan side of a river that forms part of the border between the two countries.

For his part, Duarte declared that "MERCOSUR should become a platform for development, integration and solutions, and should consider the equality of rights of its members," lamenting trade blocks established by Argentina and Brazil.

In Medellin, CAN Secretary-General Allan Wagner issued an "urgent call to the presidents of the region to assume the leadership that corresponds to them in order to build an Andean, South American and Latin American consensus for development and international insertion with social inclusion."

Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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