Peru Election 2006

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Latin Revolution Leaves Sour Taste in Vienna

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Vladimir Torres
May 17, 2006

The Fourth Europe-Latin America and the Caribbean Summit took place in Vienna, Austria on May 11-12. Fifty-eight heads of state and government from 60 countries attended the event where the divisions in the Americas were highlighted through the European prism, and Evangelina Carrozzo had her 15 minutes of fame.
An Argentine small-town carnival queen and a Greenpeace activist, Ms. Carrozzo secured an all-access press-pass to the summit. When the leaders were set to have their group photograph taken, she took off her coat and, wearing only a tiny bikini, displayed her tanned body and a banner condemning the paper-mills Uruguay is set to build across the river from Argentina.
Aside from the exciting photo-op, the summit produced a final declaration combining pragmatic steps with good intentions, and vague generalities with much debated specific statements. The main dissonance to integration efforts based on free trade and liberal democracy came from the usual suspects: Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
EU is Shifting Priorities
Fulfilling their version of the “Latin American revolutionary,” the two leaders were vociferous provocateurs: they aimed to please the European radical Left, and snubbed the conventions of high-level politics. This behaviour would not amount to much more than a folkloric display, if it were not for the high price their peoples end up paying.
The European Union (EU) is Latin America’s first foreign investor and second trade partner, as well as the first development aid donor. Through the European Commission (EC) alone, it contributes almost $650 million (US) annually, plus all the individual donations from the EU member countries. Still, Latin America has dropped on the scale of European priorities, as the EU increasingly looks to the East.
The EU knows all too well that integration is a complicated process, beginning with converging economic interests. As opposed to choosing the bilateral route to reach agreements with Latin America and Caribbean countries, the EU favours a multilateral, bloc-to-bloc approach. This option is arguably more complicated, given the current political climate of divisiveness prevailing in Latin America.
Warnings of the counterproductive effects of the region’s divisions were particularly strong from the European side. EC President Jose Manuel Barroso, when tackling the dangers of populism at the opening of the summit, highlighted how a strategic vision from Latin America is essential for the partnership’s success. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel stressed the need for open market societies, as these “are better in their performance than closed, restricted structures.”
Still, in the summit’s final statement, the EU and six Central American countries agreed to open negotiations on setting up a free-trade zone. MERCOSUR started a similar process in 1999, showing very little progress, and many issues pending on the outcomes of the WTO’s Doha round of negotiations. Currently, the South American bloc is also living through difficult times, due to several bilateral disagreements among its members.
The Community of Andean Nations (CAN) was aiming to initiate its own negotiations with the EU. These hopes derailed recently when Venezuela, currently the bloc’s chair, pulled out. Chavez argued that the Free Trade Agreements that Colombia and Peru had reached with the U.S. were incompatible with Venezuela’s interests. Will Bolivia follow suit? Morales has given varying, contradictory responses.
In a long meeting in Vienna, the remaining members of the CAN (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia), with the mediation efforts of Chancellor Schuessel and EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana, agreed on a paragraph to be included in the final declaration. The CAN countries declared the political will to start negotiations with the EU, and committed to reaching an agreement on the bloc’s conditions by July 20. Only hours later, Morales was singing a very different tune.
Summits and Counter-Summits
As has become customary, every time there is a summit, there is a counter-summit. Attending the closing ceremony of the “Linking Alternatives” gathering were Chavez, Morales, Cuba’s Vice-president Carlos Lage, and assorted anti-globalization celebrities, such as Che Guevara’s daughter, Aleida.
Chavez, at some point during his three hour speech, touched upon the subject of the CAN. Morales interrupted him saying: “You are leaving me a dead body.” “You will have to bury it then!” replied Chavez. And, to roaring applause, Morales said: “We’ll re-found it, we’ll rename it the Community of Anti-Imperialist Nations.”
Chavez and Morales captured the spotlight at both Vienna summits. European leaders eagerly expected first hand clarification on Morales’s recent nationalization, and on his plans regarding foreign investment and international commitments. They received it, and the sad corollary of his flip-flop statements is one of well-founded mistrust. They knew what to expect from Chavez, as most European leaders have been quick to realize the destabilizing impact of his regime throughout Latin America.
As for the European general public–barely interested in these events–the two presidents were met with a combination of political curiosity and genuine goodwill towards the idealized image of leaders of the dispossessed. Their actions and their words went a long way to dissipate that vision. The repetition of the old radical Left rhetoric and clichés, as well as their empty posturing, was only greeted with approval at the “alternative summit.” Back in their countries, the plight of those living in poverty is bound to continue unchanged, given the increasingly isolationist choices of Chavez and Morales.
Vladimir Torres is an Ottawa-based Latin American affairs analyst.

Written by Michael Ha

May 18th, 2006 at 11:35 am

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