April 23, 2006
At a meeting with other presidents in Paraguay last Wednesday, President Hugo Chavez declared that Venezuela will withdraw from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), a regional economic and political organization. He justified this drastic measure -- which is not yet official -- on the grounds that the free trade agreements that Colombia and Peru reached with the United States have rendered the organization "nonsense." Whether Chavez is serious or not is hard to tell, but it is a very disturbing gesture at the very least. CAN secretary general Allan Wagner, who served as foreign minister of Peru under the Garcia government of the late 1980s, called for an emergency summit meeting. See El Universal (English). The Andean Community has been working on a joint trade agreement with the European Union recently, as was discussed by a meeting of the members' presidents in Chile last month. See comunidadandina.org (English).
For once Chavez actually has a somewhat valid point, though his rhetoric is exaggerated as usual. The Andean Group, as it was originally known (established in 1969), was intended to strengthen trade ties among neighboring countries and reduce trade with the United States and other developed countries, in order to promote industrialization. The group neer lived up to its original high hopes, however, as the varying policy directions of various national government over the years kept pulling it apart. Pinochet pulled Chile out in the late 1970s, and Fujimori practically ignored the Andean Group when he was president, even though the headquarters of the Andean Community is located in Lima. Thus, pursuing free trade agreements with the United States is clearly contrary to one of the Andean Community's basic purposes. Even so, the response by other Andean countries that the trade issue is just an excuse for Chavez to pursue his own grandiose dreams is undoubtedly correct. Pres. Toledo said the work of the group would continue in spite of Venezuela's absence. See El Comercio of Peru. It will take some time before the likely ramifications of this abrupt move are known.
Beyond the immediate fate of this political-economic grouping, there lies the bigger question of, "What is Chavez up to?" He has made clear his desire to renew the dream of Simon Bolivar in forging a broad federation of South American states, which is why he officially renamed his country the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela." Ironically, that nationalistic appeal may not resonate in one of the countries where the new government is otherwise on very friendly terms with Chavez: Bolivia. The Indian rights movement headed by Evo Morales does not view the liberators Bolivar and San Martin with friendly eyes, but only as replacing one set of European overlords with another. Ethnically speaking, what unites the "core" Andean countries (Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador) is their substantial Indian population and strong Indian culture, expressed in language, art, and music. That tradition is much weaker in Colombia and Venezuela. Ethnic division may ultimately impede the radical-populist movement that is surging through much of South America right now.
The Latin America country background pages have been slightly reformatted and updated with links that conform to the new blogging system. In some cases, the news chronologies have been updated and/or condensed, but much work remains to be done. The "current situations" of each country have been removed from those pages, and are now found only on the Current situation page.