South America embraces Cuba

Fidel Castro arrived in Argentina to sign cooperation and trade agreements with the Mercosur block lead by Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.

Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, Friday commanded a new Mercosur summit that crowned the integration of Venzuela as full member of this South American trade block and paved the way for a broader political and commercial cooperation with Communist Cuba. Leaders from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, praised for Latin American integration, energy cooperation and made appeals to a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Middle East.

Castro, nearly 80, arrived in the Argentine city of Cordoba on Thursday after days of rumors about his never-confirmed visit. The revolutionary leader appeared in his classic olive military uniform at the door of a Cubana airliner inspiring the admiration of the Argentine officials that began taking pictures of him with their cellular phones.

Even when Cuba is not a Mercosur member, the Caribbean island was invited to sign an agreement easing trade with the South American free-trade zone. Members of the Argentine diplomatic service commented that the deal was attempted to ease the economical situation of Cuba after 40 years of US blockade. Castro’s officials remarked that this was the first trade agreement closed by Havana since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Chavez, in turn, arrived earlier at Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, promising that "Mercosur will enter a new phase" raising "the banner of social concerns". Before heading for Cordoba, Chavez found time to meet the leaders of the World Jewish Committee and drive the black Cadillac that served as official car of Argentine prominent populist leader of the fifties, Juan Domingo Peron.

Castro and Chavez joined the presidents of Mercosur's founding members – Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Paraguay's Nicanor Duarte and Uruguay's Tabare Vazquez – and Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Evo Morales of Bolivia, leaders of Mercosur's associate members.

Washington’s critics

During the five-hour summit, Chavez, Morales and Castro criticised Washington’s foreign policy, while the other leaders moderated their concerns over the US strategies for the region.

This kind of integration has centuries-old enemies," Castro told his counterparts in clear reference to the United States. “I do not see how the Latin American integration will be challenged”, he added.

Castro defended Cuba’s Communist regime and found time to play some jokes: “this is the first summit in which I do not face an attempt to kill me”, he said. The Cuban leader also supported Bolivian plans to expand coca leave farms. “They – the United States - want to erradicate the coca in Bolivia; we should leave them short of coffee, in response. Alcohol is more dangerous than a coca tea”.

Chile, widely seen as Latin America's star economy and with its own trade deal with Washington, expressed caution. Chile will continue to work on this regional integration, but recognizes that there is a long path ahead," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told her colleagues.

Brazil’s Lula went straight to the point that causes the main concerns among Mercosur members: the inequality between the smaller partners – Uruaguay and Paraguay - and the bigger ones – Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela-. "If we allow internal concerns to define the relationship between the states we govern, we are going to have many problems," Lula said. "The key word is patience."

Uruguay’s Socialist President, Tabare Vazquez, celebrated the intended creation of a bank of development for the Mercosur countries. “This is a great idea of our dear friend, Hugo Chavez, and is a step towards the freedom of our people”.

Bolivia’s leftist leader, Evo Morales, angrily criticised US-backed pro-market policies. “I think that the Mercosur should be a solution for the victims of an economic policy that has never resolved the problems of our families”, he said.

The summit of the people

Later on Friday, Castro and Chavez made use of their flourished rhetoric to fascinate a 45,000 cheering crowd at the campus of the Cordoba University in an event called “the summit of the people”. Far away from the formal requirement of the leader’s summit, both leftist leaders changed their clothes and radicalized their critics to Washington.

“We have defeated the ALCA (Spanish initials for the US backed Free Trade Area of the Americas)”, said Chavez who praised for the end of the “American imperialism”. “The hegemonic power of the US must cease”, he said.

Fidel Castro, in turn, vowed for the end of analfabetism, and amid quotes of Marx and Lenin reviewed the world history in the twentieth century and accused Washington of being behind of “over 600 plots” to kill him.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov